- By John Stark
If you "love, love, love to read," in the words of former CNN anchor Daryn Kagan, you're going to really love, love, love this news.
Kagan is the host of a new, weekly series devoted to the culture of today's books. Called "Bookmark," it premieres tomorrow night on RLTV at 10 p.m., with rebroadcasts through the weekend.
“Older Americans are the most avid book readers and that doesn’t matter if you’re talking printed books or e-books,” she says on the first episode. “Surveys show that the typical adult reads 17 books a year and, if you’re 65 and older, you’re reading even more.” The source of that survey isn’t revealed. We can only hope it’s true.
The first hourlong show kicks off with a 12-minute interview with Barbara Bradford Taylor, who has sold more than 30 million books — her latest being Secrets From the Past. Episode two features an equally long chat with Katherine Howe, a young historical scholar who decided to turn her fact-finding into fiction. The result: two best-sellers that take place in and around Boston, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, set during the Salem witch trials, and The House of Velvet and Glass, which deals with the Titanic, spiritualists and transcendentalism.
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“One of the amazing things about this show is I really get to talk to the authors,” says Kagan, who recently spoke to me from her home in Atlanta. “It’s kind of like the Inside the Actor’s Studio TV series. I get to have in-depth conversations with the most important authors in the country. They are thrilled to come on. To get a writer of a book on television today is such a challenge. And when it does happen, the author is given a very short time on air. Basically, the host holds up the book and says, ‘Thank you for joining us.’
“One of the neat things we do is present a specific set of questions to each author. Everyone wants to know: How do you write? Where do you write? Do you write in longhand or on a computer? Do you write at a special time of day? Where do you buy your books? I ask fiction writers if they know the ending before starting to write a book. You really get to know these authors not just as writers but as fellow readers.”
"Queen of Suspense" Mary Higgins Clark also shows up for a chat with Kagan in a coming episode. “She’s well into her 80s,” Kagan notes. “She walks with a cane, but is sharp as a tack, with piercing blue eyes. When I asked her and Barbara Taylor Bradford if retirement is around the corner they both looked at me like I was nuts. ‘Why in the world would I stop doing this?’ Taylor said to me. When they go it’ll be at their keyboards.”
The show features various lifestyle segments, including coverage of book auctions and writers conventions. Film critic Jeffrey Lyons appears on each episode to compare classic books and the movies made from them. He then judges which is better. Fiction, non-fiction and career advice are the three main author topics. Next Avenue contributor and Encore.org vice-president Marci Alboher is interviewed on the second episode; in a later show, Kagan chats with Next Avenue blogger and jobs expert Kerry Hannon.
Is Kagan a big reader?
“I’m back reading a ton of books again,” she says. “When I signed up for the show I spent a month preparing. It was like being in college. Every day new books would arrive at the house. There were 24 at one time to read. I think another on-the-air talent could just show up and be handed a bunch of questions to ask the guest. I can’t do it that way — not if I’m going to do 12-minute interviews. You really have to know the book to talk to the person who wrote it. I can’t do a shortcut. I’m a journalist.”
When does Kagan find the time to read?
“My big reading opportunity is when I’m blow drying my hair,” she says. “I’ll prop up my iPad and put the brush in my other hand. What with my job, family and animals, it’s the one time I can really focus.”
Any summer reading recommendations?
"John Grisham's latest book, The Racketeer, is one of his best. I loved Harlan Coben's Six Years — it's about a man looking for his past love — and would love to have him on the show. And I enjoyed Lisa Scottoline's Don't Go. She's my new favorite chick lit author."
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At age 49, Kagan got married for the first time last year to a widower with a 12-year-old daughter. “I just had my first Mother’s Day,” she says. "It's what I've always wanted."
How did she meet the man of her dreams?
“My secret is I had completely given up on having a husband and kid,” she says. “I was spending time with two of my best friends, who are a gay couple. We were at a summer festival and ran into a fellow father who had a daughter in the same grade as their son. They introduced us, and that father is now my husband. I did exactly what they tell us girls not to do: How are you going to ever meet a nice guy if you just hang around with your gay boyfriends? Well, that’s how it happened. So I got a husband, a kid, a dog, a three-legged cat and five chickens in the yard. It's a happy beginning, not an ending."
It’s the stuff of books. Non-fiction, at that.