CSPAN’s Book TV is an odd entity. It seems like it’s just used to fill the time, although there are occasionally interesting guests. Though CSPAN has never struck me as particularly publicity-hungry, the nonetheless have the Book Bus, “a mobile television production studio that travels the country promoting Book TV’s unique non-fiction book programming.” Recently, the Book Bus came through Laurie’s town, and she sent in her report:
CSPAN’s “Book Bus” stopped by the Athens, GA public library for a couple hours on a very wet Wednesday afternoon in February. The two twenty-something female staffers, Ann and MaryAnn, gave tours and explained their traveling broadcast facility. It has a small kitchen and bathroom in the back, but the bulk of the bus is set up with broadcast equipment and a mini-studio for taping interviews. They were just finishing interviewing a local author when we arrived (I think, but am not certain, it was Mary Padgelek talking about her book In the Hand of the Holy Spirit: The Visionary Art of J.B. Murray, a biography of a self-taught Georgia artist). We toured the bus and I asked so many questions you could say they got interviewed for a change, though most of the answers were disappointing. What follows is my best recollection of the conversation:
Q: We know BookTV is dedicated to nonfiction, but why so much on politics, American history and American biographies? Why not more on world history, world figures, nature, technology, explorers, science….?
A: We do some of that. We’re primarily focused on what is of interest to our audience.
Q: In that case, when you get to Atlanta in April, will you be interviewing Neal Boortz and Congressman John Linder, authors of The Fairtax Book which came out in 2005 and made the New York Times bestseller list?
A: We hadn’t planned to, but that’s a good idea.
Q: Atlanta seems to have trouble attracting good authors for visits. Most of them seem to stick to the Northeast and West Coast. Do you think BookTV could come to Atlanta more often and maybe raise publishers’ awareness of our existence?
A: We come as often as we can. We recently covered an author talk for the Center for the Book at the Decatur public library, and have covered events at the Jimmy Carter Library.
Q: You visit a lot of book festivals. Some great nonfiction has also been written in graphic format yet you’ve never been to a comics convention. Why not go to one and interview some of the nonfiction authors/illustrators there?
A: We do nonfiction.
Q: But some good nonfiction has been done in graphic format — most recently In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegleman, La Perdida by Jessica Abel, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Epileptic by David B. and Pyongyang by Guy Delisle, among others. There are even a couple annual conventions near Washington, D.C., your headquarters, that would be easy for you to get to and cover.
A: It would be up to the comic book convention organizers then, to contact us about coming.
(One of the staff gives out her business card as a contact point. I have no connection to these conventions but may forward the info to the organizers.)
Q: Why are you staying in Atlanta for 12 days in early April?
A: We’re attending a cable producers’ convention, but that’s not open to the public. We’ll basically be reporting to the industry that provides our production budget.
Q: Earlier this year you stopped in Katrina-ravaged Mobile, Alabama. What was it like there? How did people with no homes or public facilities respond to a “Book Bus?”
A: Another crew handled that, so we can’t say, but some interviews were taped that may be broadcast.
They in turn asked if I would think up something to ask political theorist Francis Fukuyama for an upcoming 3-hour interview to air on March 5th, and then filmed me asking the question. Who on earth wants to listen to a political theorist for 3-hours?!! Is that their big audience — cable tv producers closely following political trends? Marjane Satrapi could easily fill one of those Fukuyama hours with the story of her life in Iran before and after the revolution and be a lot more interesting. (Postscript: we taped the show and saw that they aired my question, but I look awful. A friend called and said, “You look better in real life.” Thanks.) They rewarded us with free BookTV t-shirts, which come squeeze-packed in the shape of a 2″ x 1.5″ x 6.25″ bus, round wheels and all. My husband opened his and it was less interesting than the way it was packaged. My package is now displayed on a shelf at work, t-shirt still squeezed inside.
The BookTV Bus folks wanted to try local food and planned to have dinner at Athens vegetarian institution The Grit. Maybe they got another interview out of it. Too bad Weaver D’s only serves lunch; that’s truly Deep South soul food – and Weaver’s definitely worth an interview by the BookTV bus folk.