Saturday, April 24, 2010

RA Interview Lab: Person 2


For my second person, I chose to interview my dad. I purposely chose him to challenge myself, as he is an avid nonfiction reader. He can’t even remember the last time he read a fiction book after high school, with the one exception of The Da Vinci Code a few years back. His favorites are autobiographies and memoirs, particularly of politicians or of famous people (comedians, athletes, film stars) interested in politics. He is staunchly conservative and Republican in every way, but he enjoys reading about both sides of the issues and so does not object to reading about a Democrat.

I asked him to name the last few books he has read and enjoyed. He mentioned Sarah Palin, Ted Kennedy, and Craig Ferguson. He explained that whenever he hears about a new nonfiction title by someone of prominence or about a topic that interests him, he buys it without even looking at reviews. He doesn’t particularly care how “good” a book supposedly is—he just want to be informed and to learn more about the issues he cares about. I ask him whether he wants to continue to read more about politicians or if he might like to read about another kind of celebrity. He thinks for a moment and then replies that he will read about anyone as long as they are current and relevant to what’s going on in the world in the present.

Based on his descriptions of the kinds of books he enjoys, it seemed to me that for him, the appeal of nonfiction lies primarily in the learning aspect of the experience. His preference of autobiographies and memoirs led me to believe that he probably appreciates nonfiction with a narrative structure, but his interest in certain topics led me to believe it is not required for him to enjoy a title. I asked him if he might be interested in a speculative nonfiction work, but he informed me that story isn’t what he really looks for in books—he is more interested in real people, how they live their lives, and why they think the way they do.

I initially did not know where to start for nonfiction advisory. I decided that because my dad is interested in current issues and events, checking out the nonfiction bestseller lists could be beneficial. I looked at the New York Times bestsellers and realized that I would need more specific information on what topics he was in the mood for. I asked if he was interested in the financial crisis or the stock market, as the top spot was occupied by Michael Lewis’ The Big Short, which covered those topics. He smirked at me, because we both know how much he loves arguing about money. So I read him the summary, he went for it, and we had our first title.
I went down the nonfiction list and found in the #4 spot the autobiography of President George W. Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove, called Courage and Consequence. Dad said that he had heard of the title and had thought about buying it. I let him read the NY Times review of the book, and he decided that he would go ahead and check that out as well.

My dad didn’t seem interested in any of the other titles on the NY Times lists, and I figured that two political titles were enough, so I thought I would try to find something that would appeal to one of his other interests. I asked him what he was in the mood for reading, and he replied that he might like to read something about entertainment or celebrities. On a whim, I went to Amazon and looked under nonfiction, which was helpfully divided into topics. I clicked on “Entertainment” and scrolled down, searching for something new he might like. I came upon When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead—the biography of Jerry Weintraub, who I knew to be a famous producer who is friendly with several politicians and celebrities. Dad knew this as well, and decided that he would like to read it.

I now had three titles for him to try, but I wanted to give him more titles in case those ones didn’t work out, so I quickly scanned Amazon’s nonfiction bestseller list and jotted down the titles that matched Dad’s interests (especially his conservative leanings). This is what I came up with:

Jonathan Alter – The Promise: President Obama, Year One
Datyn Perry – Reggie Jackson (biography)
Eric Pooley – The Climate War (skepticism of climate change)
Roger Lowenstein – The End of Wall Street
Sean Hannity – Conservative Victory: Defeating Obama’s Radical Agenda
Dick Morris – 2010: Take Back America
Malcolm Gladwell – Outliers: The Story of Success
Jane White – America, Welcome to the Poorhouse

I accessed his local library OPAC and searched for the first three titles I had offered him. I only found the Michael Lewis title, so I helped him place a hold on it. Dad told me he would either wait for the library to acquire the other two titles or he would just ask for my mom to buy them for him for Fathers’ Day. I suggested that in the meantime, he could check out some of the other titles from the bestseller list.

New York Times Bestseller List – Nonfiction
Amazon (new in nonfiction)


He has read the Michael Lewis book and he enjoyed it. That’s pretty much all he would tell me. He’s a man of few words, and while he does read a lot, there are very few books (or movies… or TV shows… or anything really) that he gets really passionate about. He hopes to read Karl Rove’s book next, and he has already asked for Jerry Weintraub’s autobiography as a Fathers’ Day gift from my mom.

1 comment:

  1. You might also enjoy this Mr. Media radio interview with Jonathan Alter from May 19, 2010. He talks about his book, “The Promise,” President Obama, David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, FDR, “The Colbert Report,” his wife and even does an imitation of Joe Biden imitating Arkansas Senator John McClellan. Classic stuff!