Michael Silverblatt is an author and radio host who has been interviewing authors for over 25 years. His show, “Bookworm”, is a staple of the literary world and has featured some of the most influential authors of our time.
With his keen eye for detail and deep understanding of literature, Michael’s interviews are a must-listen for any serious reader. As he puts it, he is “on a mission to make books a part of the conversation in our lives.”
We were lucky enough to be able to sit down with Michael and ask him about his life and work.
From his favorite books to his thoughts on the role of literature in our culture, Michael had a lot to say on the subject. It was an insightful and inspiring conversation that we are sure you will enjoy.
MM: I was a professor at UCLA and I taught English, but mostly American literature. And I had been on the faculty there for 12 years.
And then I was approached by KCRW in Santa Monica which is a wonderful public radio station that is devoted to arts and culture, as well as public affairs. And they said we have this show called The Bookworm and the host is retiring.
Would you be interested in talking about books on the radio? And I said, well, I don’t know how that works because I don’t have a radio personality. And they said we don’t want you to have a radio personality. We just want you to talk about books on the radio.
And I thought, what a great idea. So I started doing that and I did that for 22 years.
MM: You are asking people to share their most personal thoughts with you that they also want to share with the public. Now, that’s a scary thing to do.
And what I have found is that when I start an interview with someone, I lead them into talking about their childhood, their parents, their upbringing, what influenced their life.
What books shaped you? What books formed you? What books shaped your way of thinking? What made you the person you are? What made you the writer you are? And then that morphs into the book that we’re talking about because the book is really about the person who wrote it.
And so, I tend to lead with the biographical. I try to find out who the person is because if you don’t know who the person is, you don’t know their work.
MM: Do we live in a culture of illiteracy? I don’t think we do. I think that people are reading. I think that there is a way to define literacy.
I think people are reading a lot on the internet. People are reading on their cell phones. People are reading in a way that perhaps they haven’t in the past.
Now, what has happened is that there is a lot of reading, but I don’t think that people are reading the kinds of things that they should be reading. So I think it’s very important that people should read the classics. They should read great, great books.
They should be reading all kinds of things. And I think in our society there’s been a little bit of a dumbing down, not in terms of the level of discourse, but in terms of the kinds of things that people are reading.
They are reading popular books. They are reading genre fiction. They are reading short pieces of things. They are reading lots and lots of things, but I don’t think they are reading the kinds of things that they should.
MM: I think technology is here to stay. It’s here to stay, and it’s bringing a lot of good things to the world. It’s bringing more knowledge to the world. It’s bringing all kinds of things to the world. It’s also changing the way people are reading.
It’s changing the way people are writing. It’s changing the way people are thinking about narrative. There’s a lot of good things about technology. There’s a lot of bad things about technology.
And I think the main bad thing is that it has created this world of everything being on demand and everything being immediate.
Everything is now. And that is inimical to serious thought. That’s inimical to serious reading. That’s inimical to serious writing. It is just a world of random stimulation.
MM: I think my favorite book is Moby Dick by Herman Melville. That book has been with me since I was a kid. I’ve read it a bunch of times over the years. I’ve taught it a bunch of times over the years. I’ve written a book about it.
It is just a book that resonates with me and that I find myself going back to again and again and again. And I just think it is an amazing book. I also love Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, which is a long, long novel.
And I love it because it’s not just that it’s a great novel, it’s an amazing work of literary architecture. It’s an amazing work of literary architecture. And I find that fascinating.
MM: I’ve generally found that the best interviews are when the author is really speaking from their heart and not from their head.
So if someone starts talking about plot points and statistics and sales numbers, and all that sort of thing, then I’m just doing a little commercial for the book and not really talking to the person.
And I like to go in and say, how did you start this book? What were you thinking about? And I just want to go back to the beginning and let the person talk and ask them questions that let them lead into their thoughts.
Because I think that the best interviews are ones where the person is controlling the interview, but they are led by the interviewer.
MM: I would say there are two things. First, we all have a story to tell. And there is nothing more powerful than a person telling their own story. So if you have a story to tell, if you have something to say, find some way to put it into words.
And also, read. Read as much as you can. Read everything you can. And that’s the best thing you can do as a writer.
MM: I think that literature will be here as long as there are people who want to read and who have something to say.
I think that it will change in terms of the ways that it’s written, the ways that it’s published, the ways that it’s read, but it will always be here because it is an essential part of our being. And I think that it’s very, very important that people not just read in a random way.
It’s very important to thematically read things. It’s very important that they not just read books that are interesting, but that they read books that are important.
MM: I think that we live in a world that is fascinated with the new and the present and the immediate. And I think that we are losing a lot of our history because of that. I think that we are losing a lot of our culture because of that.
I think that we are losing a lot of our literature because of that. And I think it’s very important for us to rediscover our past, to rediscover our history, to rediscover our culture, and to rediscover our literature.
Because if we don’t do that, we are losing something very, very important about who we are as human beings.
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