I’ve just been surfing the net, and finding some books I’d really like to read. But two problems immediately come to mind. First, I’m a very slow reader and I already own about 50 times the number of books I’ll be able to finish even if I live to be 100. The other problem was addressed quite well when Ambrose Bierce defined a novel as “a short story padded” in The Devil’s Dictionary. In other words books – both fiction and nonfiction – have a story to tell, but the authors often throw in material which, while interesting, has little to do with the main premise of the book or they write pages about something that could be described in a paragraph or two. Someone who reviewed The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book by Peter Finn put it well: “Boris Pasternak was a famous and beloved Russian poet until he wrote Dr. Zhivago. Then he became infamous and reviled as an enemy of the Soviet Union. That sums up over 90% of this book. The CIA’s successful scheme to publish the book in Russian and smuggle it into the USSR constitutes about 5%.” Finn’s book is 368 pages long. Do we really need to read 368 pages to learn the details of this admittedly interesting bit of history? Frankly, I don’t think so, and I simply don’t have time.
What I need is a Reader’s Digest condensed book version of this book and many others. Unfortunately, Reader’s Digest no longer prints condensed books. (If you don’t know what a Reader’s Digest condensed book is ask someone who is very, very old.) So what am I to do? One option is to watch (or simply listen to) Book TV presentations of authors talking about their books before an audience that asks questions at the end of the authors’ presentations. Since the authors are out to promote their books, they are very open about the most interesting points of their books and about why they wrote them. They give you the juiciest tidbits of information because that might “hook” you. And the questions from the audience members are normally quite pointed and pertinent. But one problem is that Book TV is limited to nonfiction books. Since The Zhivago Affair has to do with the history of a novel as well as world politics, it can be included in the Book TV line-up. Still, Book TV (available on C-SPAN2) is a national treasure and an invaluable source for information on many popular books and authors.
Book TV has been on the air for many years, and most of the author presentations are available at the Book TV website. You can get the schedule for Book TV’s weekend offerings here. Usually we have 48 hours of programming (from 8:00 a.m. Saturday morning until 8:00 a.m. Monday morning), but on certain weekends, including the upcoming Labor Day weekend, they extend their programming until Tuesday morning at 8:00 a.m. ET. Book TV will offer, among other things, nine hours of programming from the 2014 National Book Festival beginning at 10:00 a.m. ET Saturday. And if you like books about political topics, every weekend you have a wide range to choose from across the entire political spectrum.
While C-SPAN2 is devoted to Book TV each weekend, C-SPAN3 is devoted to what they call American History TV. Its offerings tend to be more like classroom lectures on a broad array of history topics rather than authors’ book presentations. This weekend’s programs will include: “The Civil War: 1864 Atlanta Campaign,” “Lectures in History: 1960s & 1970s Popular Music and Feminism,” “The 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta,” and “Advice from the Founding Fathers.” You can learn more about American History TV here, and you can access a printable schedule of upcoming offerings here. Podcasts (without video) of some of the programs are available here.
Now, if I can only find something similar for fiction.