Tuesday, 22 February 2011

My Life in Books

Well, not exactly mine, but the lives of the twenty guests who will be interviewed by Anne Robinson over the next fortnight as part of the BBC's run up to World Book Night on March 5th.  This is not a television household.  The radio wakes me up in the morning and goes off when I finally put the light out at night.  I do, however, make an exception for programmes that discuss books and the prospect of this every weekday evening for a fortnight, is tempting indeed.

If there's one thing I love as much as I do reading it is discussing what I've been reading with other likeminded people.  Hence the three book groups to which I belong, not to mention being part of the blogging world.  So, a programme where two guests each brings along five of their favourite books to talk about has to be my idea of heaven.  In fact you can tell how much I'm willing to put up with to listen to a book discussion if I say that two of the three people involved in the first of these programmes are among the broadcasters I would normally go furthest to avoid and yet I still watched it and still enjoyed it.

The format is very simple.  Anne Robinson invites two readers to choose books that mark particular points in their lives and explain why they have been important to them.  It could become extremely formulaic and lifeless and indeed after the first five minutes, especially when Robinson kept jumping in to try and move the proceedings along, I was worried that it wasn't going to work.  However, the two guests, writer P D James and radio presenter, Richard Bacon, suddenly started to interact with each other, ignoring whatever time constraints there may have been, and the programme immediately took off. I hope by the time the second in the series airs this evening Robinson will have relaxed a little and learned to let the discussion flow more easily.  I'm not certain, though, that she does relaxed and it might be necessary for the guests to take over every evening.

Whatever the faults it is just so nice to have a programme that takes reading as a lifelong obsession seriously and I hope that it will be such a success that the BBC will have to think about giving it a regular spot in the schedules rather than just a short term project.  Maybe we should all write and demand a second series.


  1. Thanks for your thoughts on this programme... I was curious as to how it would work. I must contact my friends in the UK to see if they can record a few for me. P. D. James!

  2. This sounds wonderful actually. I hate to say this, but I can't imagine anything of the sort on American TV--maybe only public access channels that not many people watch. It's too bad we can't see this via the internet, but I am pretty sure the viewing is restricted to only UK viewers as I've tried to watch BBC programs online in the past.

  3. I've watched Monday's and Tuesday's programmes. In the first Anne Robinson was irritating (as usual) and in the second I thought she looked rather lost. You're right she can't do relaxed and as it's as if she can't keep quiet for long. I don't normally like Sue Perkins much but I liked her book choices. And I liked her way of talking that kept Anne quiet for a while.

    I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

  4. Cristina, I thought you were based in Kent. Are you abroad at the moment?

    Danielle, do you by any chance have an I-Pad? They've just provided us with a BBC I-Player app which means you can watch programmes that way. I don't know if it's available in the US, but it would be worth trying.

    Margaret, If I'd been P D James in the first programme I would have bopped Anne Robinson one for the way she kept interrupting. I don't normally like Richard Bacon and avoid his radio work, but I thought he saved that show. I haven't seen the second one yet. I'm using the I-Pad to watch them over tea the day after, but I'm sure you're right about Robinson. She doesn't know how to take a back seat when necessary.

  5. Didn't even know this was on so thanks for the tip off Annie, will have to revisit them on i-player. Anne Robinson is a strange choice for the show I think.

  6. Sounds great Annie. (So that was you who commented on my recent radio post - you commented as Ann and not with your blog address as you usually do so I wasn't sure!) We have a monthly TV show here called the First Tuesday Bookclub. I love it - the main problems with it are that it's only monthly and that it only lasts half an hour. However, the presenter often also does a few specials a year like Crime novels, etc. An interesting special last year was on Bestsellers (people in Australia like Bryce Courtenay) and they talked about how they are looked down upon by the literati. It was an entertaining program.

    Anyhow, all this is to say, sounds like a great show.

  7. Anne Robinson comes close to being a disastrous choice, Leah. Fortunately, so far there has been a guest who has known how to shut her up and even, in the case of Sue Perkins, take her down a peg or two. Do try and catch the programmes though. It's just a pleasure to listen to people who are really enthusiastic about books sharing their enjoyment.

    WG for some reason which I haven't yet fathomed my computer decided to revert to the name Yahoo gave me. I shall have to watch for that before I push the comment button. If you want more on books have you yet discovered the podcasts 'Books on the Nightstand' and 'The Guardian Book Podcast'? They're definitely worth seeking out for a weekly fix. There's also a BBC one, 'Books and Authors' which I don't download because I listen to it live, but that would be worth exploring as well.

  8. Hello Annie,

    I am going to record the series of programmes, then get some quality me time to watch them, when 'the other half' is off out doing something more constructive than keep butting in every two minutes.

    Besides which, I cannot stand Anne Robinson, so I can fast forward all the bits with her talking and just watch the 'intelligent' conversation.

    She really is 'all about me' and she comes across so aggressively, that I am surprised that someone hasn't bopped her before now, That's if they can find her real face of course!!!

    I didn't catch the start, but there was also another programme on last week, with Sebastian Faulks, which was very interesting and informative.

  9. I hope the book program is going well. I'm not a TV watcher either but will make an exception for books! I love P.D. James. I had the pleasure of going to a reading she gave once on a book tour in the U.S. and could have sat and listened to her tell stories all night.

  10. Yvonne, fast forwarding Anne Robinson sounds like a seriously good idea. I haven't yet found anyone who thinks that she was an appropriate choice, but what is interesting is watching the way different guests have found of dealing with her egotism. They have all been far more polite than I would have been but remarkably effective.

    Stefanie, I am very envious of your having seen PD James. She is remarkable and makes the thought of living into one's nineties seem a very good idea. I just hope she keeps writing.

  11. That program sounds really fun. I'd love to see P.D. James! Like Danielle, I wish we could watch the show in the U.S. No iPad for me, so I miss out. Oh, well -- that pesky time problem would get in the way again, I'm sure.

  12. I'm finding now, Dorothy, that I would rather it was once a week and not every evening. It feels like too much all at once and if you miss an episode you might miss the one really excellent group of books. It's a marvellous idea, but I think perhaps one that hasn't been thought through well enough.