I'm in London this week for the U.K. launch of Caribou Island, and I really enjoy the range of radio and TV formats for books here. I was on a BBC radio show yesterday called The Verb (BBC Radio 3) with a cellist, a storyteller, and a playwright. I was asked to write a 1,000-word essay beforehand on Old English meter in contemporary American fiction, using examples from McCarthy, Proulx, and Robinson, and I read this essay aloud, then the host asked me a few questions (about McCarthy's earlier sources, such as Melville and Faulkner, for instance, and about my own writing and Alaska). But the real fun was in watching the other acts. We were all in the studio together, and after the cellist performed, retelling fairy tales through music, it was amazing to watch the storyteller, a young woman who sang and recited and was absolutely captivating. Then another young woman read her 4-minute play meant for radio, and I couldn't believe how good it was (you can hear it, too, by podcast, after the show airs tomorrow).
I also recorded a bit yesterday for a BBC 2 TV show called The Review Show. We had a brief interview on camera, and I read a few sections from the book, but the bulk of the show will be three or four critics discussing the book. This got me wondering a bit about what could be possible in the U.S. In France, too, I was on a show in which four other writers discussed their books. This was prime-time TV, Thursday evening, and one of the books was about math, but the show has an audience. In Spain, a national TV program called Pagina 2 filmed me in a lumber warehouse talking about my book and family history and sent a crew to get footage of a cabin in the mountains. In Australia, I'll be on a show in April discussing a classic and a new book with several other authors. In the Netherlands, I was interviewed for almost twenty minutes, in detail, about Legend of a Suicide. TV there imagines its viewers as people who are smart and educated and have long attention spans and don't mind hearing about tragedy. I think this could be possible in the U.S., too, if it were given a chance.
All of this got me thinking about where books are free to roam on radio and TV in the U.S. I'm writing a short bit on Chaucer for NPR's All Things Considered, so U.S. radio is clearly capable of covering the same sort of topics. And the longest, most in-depth, smartest radio interviews I've had in the world have been in the U.S. I was just interviewed by Michael Silverblatt on KCRW's Bookworm, for instance, and he's as thorough and generous and skilled as an interviewer can be. I've had great radio interviews on NPR affiliates throughout the U.S., including big stations such as Minnesota Public Radio and stations in locations that perhaps seem less likely, such as in rural south Texas. But I wonder whether we could branch out a bit in format, bringing multiple authors into an interview or multiple reviewers or other artists, as in the BBC formats. And I think there must be more ways to include books on TV in the U.S.