I just read today that Booknotes, C-SPAN’s well-known show for nonfiction book lovers like me will end Sunday, December 5, as it reaches its 800th episode. As fans of the show know, Booknotes founder and host Brian Lamb was know for his straightforward approach to interviewing authors. Often he would ask the simplest of questions, such as How do you write? and Where do you write? He wanted to get out of the way and let the authors speak about their subjects. When starting a show with a biographer, his questions at times could sound silly. “Who was Abraham Lincoln?”
As his style was often spoofed, it was unpretentious and forthright. In fact, his basic questions are the most appreciated. I know I appreciated them when I was unfamiliar with a period in history or an historical figure being discussed. Even though Lamb has said he will replace Booknotes with a similar interview show called Q&A, I’m going to miss a program strictly dedicated to authors and their books. Here is the press release:
Brian Lamb, series host and CEO of C-SPAN, says that after fifteen-and-a-half years he would like to reclaim some personal time and look for new and different interviewing challenges. He estimates that each week he spends, on average, about 20 hours reading in preparation for his hour-long author interviews. “When you add it all up, Iâ€™ve committed about 1.8 years of my life to reading books for the series. Itâ€™s time to use all those hours in other ways.”
Since its debut in 1989, “Booknotes” has aired at 8pm and llpm ET on Sunday evenings on C-SPAN. On Sunday, December 12th, the cable network will debut a new Lamb interview tentatively titled “Q & A” in this same time slot. Featured subjects will come from many fieldsâ€”politics, science, history, medicineâ€”and occasionally authors. “Weâ€™ll look for different, but topical issues and people that arenâ€™t being seen and heard elsewhere on TV,” Lamb promises.
The first “Booknotes” interview aired on April 2, 1989, featuring Zbigniew Brzezinski on his book “Grand Failure.” Over the next fifteen years, hundreds of the nationâ€™s best-known non-fiction writers came before the “Booknotes” cameras. World leaders promoting their memoirs, such as Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, George H.W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Helmut Schmidt, Ariel Sharon, Jimmy Carter, all sat for “Booknotes” interviews.
Using the slogan, “One Author. One Book. One Hour.” the “Booknotes” series became known among publishers and authors for its ability to sell nonfiction books — and for its editorial idiosyncrasies. Interviews were recorded in an all-black studio with the simplest of sets: two arm chairs and a bargain-store coffee table. Authors were often quizzed about their writing habits. (Noted historian Forrest McDonald revealed that he wrote in the nude in his Alabama country house.) “Booknotesâ€™” most important editorial policy was that authors could appear only once in their writing career, even if later books were big bestsellers. (Bill Clinton wasnâ€™t booked for his new memoir, “My Life,” for example, because he appeared in 1996 for “Between Hope and History.”)
In 1998, the success of “Booknotes” led to the creation of a weekly 48-hour non-fiction programming block on C-SPAN2 called “Book TV.” In addition, the series has produced four books of collected interviews, initially published by Times Books and later by PublicAffairs and Penguin. An estimated 200,000 “Booknotes” titles have been sold over the years and the third book in the series, “Booknotes: Stories from American History” made it to the “New York Times” list.
“Booknotes will” live on via the internet; as a resource for journalists, historians and other researchers, all 800 interviews will remain archived at www.booknotes.org with searchable video and transcripts. Encore airings “Booknotes” program will continue to be seen on C-SPAN2â€™s Book TV, Saturdays at 7 pm and Sundays at 11 am ET.