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Best of 2002: Movies, Books, Music.
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Monday, September 06, 2004

Bye Bye, Booknotes
This week’s Booknotes was a classic example of why I’ll be gutted when the show goes off the air in December. Few weeks have passed in the last decade or so that I haven’t watched Booknotes—I often watch with one eye on a newspaper or magazine, but when it engages, it’s one of the most compelling shows on television.

I have often found it most interesting when the book is one I’d never consider reading—perhaps because I know less about those subjects and so have most to learn. (For instance, from this year: Martin Marty on Martin Luther and David Cay Johnston on the U.S. tax code.) This week’s writer was Richard Viguerie, author of America's Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media to Take Power. As Viguerie himself admitted, he got no interest in the book from established publishers, even on the right, so he went with a small house, Bonus Books, based in the publishing powerhouse of Santa Monica. Brian Lamb didn’t spend a ton of time on the book itself; this can sometimes be a bad sign, there have been cases recently where the author just couldn’t handle the kind of close questioning that Lamb dishes out—I’m thinking of Alyn Brodsky, who was just too forgetful, and Nikki Giovanni, who was just too quirky (besides which, it’s kind of hard to treat poetry like other nonfiction)—but in this case, it was that Lamb recognized that the interest was in Viguerie’s life and career, not whatever truisms he’d dug up (with a co-author) for this book.

Viguerie is a conservative who pretty much established direct mail marketing as a fund-raising (and consciousness-raising) tool. He didn’t talk about the computer programs he used (thank God), but there was some fascinating detail about the way he went about gathering the first lists of conservative names and addresses. I was surprised to hear the vehemence with which he distinguished between conservatives (he’s definitely one) and Republicans (they’re the people conservatives have to go through to enact their agenda). He talked about how he would definitely not work for a client he disagreed with, but he gave a very revealing example about a client who he had been sure he’d never work with, but then circumstances changed: For years, he’d disliked Rudy Giuliani, but as soon as he ran against Hillary Clinton … It was one of the highest fund-raising returns he’s ever generated.

Brian Lamb has cut down on his most famous habit of asking super-basic questions—“Who was George Washington?”—perhaps because it’s just too awkward when guests don’t know about the tactic and think he really doesn’t know who Karl Marx is. He is a bit of a prude, though. I notice that when he reads excerpts from books, he’ll often make little tweaks like “BS” for “bullshit, though this week he did say “bastards.”