Allison Green’s Radio Interview on Bookworm

At Ooligan, we are always on the lookout for exciting opportunities to publicize a new title and reach an even wider range of readers. As a small press, not only are we more accustomed to doing publicity on a local scale, but it’s a battle to receive any national attention, given the multitude of titles published by the Big Five every year. With Allison Green’s travel memoir The Ghosts Who Travel with Me, we were proud to have a mention of the book in Publisher’s Weekly and a review in Shelf Awareness. This summer, we were honored once again when Green was invited to appear on the premier literary radio show Bookworm, an opportunity I had the good fortune and privilege to arrange.

Bookworm is a nationally syndicated radio show that airs every Thursday on Los Angeles’s public radio station KCRW, whose episodes are distributed by NPR. Michael Silverblatt, the host of Bookworm, has been doing the show for more than twenty-five years. In that time he’s hosted many prestigious authors on the show, such as Junot Díaz, Margaret Atwood, Art Spiegelman, and Salman Rushdie.

Bookworm also marked the first time an Oolie made a radio appearance on behalf of the press. In addition to the interview component, Silverblatt had the idea of discussing the work Ooligan does as an independent, student-run press. Since I was one of the members of the book’s project team, he invited me to appear on the show alongside Green to provide a bit of background on Ooligan Press. In early August, we made the trip down to Los Angeles where we recorded the Bookworm interview together.

Silverblatt characterizes Bookworm interviews as conversations with authors. He told us that he doesn’t prepare any questions in advance. Instead he fishes—he goes into the interview with a general sense of topics he’s interested in discussing. Using the back-and-forth rapport Silverblatt develops with the author, he builds a narrative that encapsulates the many angles of the book that’s being discussed.

When I first pitched The Ghosts Who Travel with Me to Silverblatt, and later during several follow-up conversations, we talked about Richard Brautigan as the focus with which he was interested in reading Green’s memoir. (In preparation for the interview, he re-read all Richard Brautigan’s novels to re-familiarize himself with his writing.) Few people now remember he existed, yet here was Green, not only writing about Brautigan, but using her conflicted relationship with his writing as her center; investigating not just her connection to Brautigan’s writing, but to an entire literary tradition and historical memory she didn’t take part in and was deliberately excluded from.

At the time of the Bookworm interview, Green was no stranger to radio interviews, having done some previously for Ghosts, and this was my very first. We had a fantastic time. Silverblatt and his producer Connie Alvarez were as friendly and warm as can be, making Green, her wife Arline, and myself feel relaxed and right at home. We talked, we joked, we laughed, and we recorded an enjoyable and insightful interview.

Setting up Green’s interview on Bookworm has been, without a doubt, the highlight of my time at Ooligan thus far. Those of us in marketing and publicity typically do all their work behind the scenes. Being able to publicly promote The Ghosts Who Travel with Me and Ooligan Press alongside Green, on a nationally broadcasted platform no less, was an incredibly rewarding experience. You can listen to and download the interview here. And after that, you can check out the treasure trove that is Bookworm’s archived interviews.

Reading Literary Fiction Boosts Powers of Social Perception

This past Friday, October 4, NPR’s All Things Considered reported on research findings from a Science journal study, which concluded that reading “highbrow” literary fiction (as opposed to popular fiction or nonfiction) gave individuals greater powers of social perception. Put simply, people who read Louise Erdrich instead of Danielle Steel have a better chance of
being able to “read” people as well. Scientists reviewing the findings suggested that this may be the case in part because of the character-driven narrative arcs of literary fiction, as opposed to the plot-driven narratives present in popular fiction. When you read popular fiction, you keep turning the pages to see what is going to happen next; when you read literary fiction, you keep turning the pages to learn more about conflicted and complex characters.
While the findings of the study itself were pretty interesting (not to mention a bit of an ego inflater for those who do choose Erdrich over Steel), what really caught my attention was the specifications of “literary” and “popular” fiction. Even the scientists who conducted the study admitted that “it’s hard to precisely define ‘literary’ fiction.” Sure, it’s easy to pick out some key differences between the two writers featured in the study, but when you put any two works of fiction side by side, the task will likely prove to be more difficult.
This is an issue that we debate with every new acquisition at Ooligan Press, something that publishers everywhere have to think about. One of our most recent acquisitions, a currently untitled work by Karelia Stetz-Waters, proved especially tricky to categorize, with students going back and forth between literary fiction and young adult fiction (and what about that ambiguous “new adult” category we keep hearing about?) for months, and although we have tentatively decided that the manuscript is young adult, we are still debating.
And that’s what I guess my point is: for the most part, these categories are primarily a marketing construct. Just because a work of fiction is popular doesn’t mean that there aren’t some elements of higher literary writing at play, and vice versa. Categories are fluid, subjective, and sometimes arbitrary, based on how a publisher chooses to market a book. What might not speak on a deeper level to one reader may resonate very strongly with another. While the works employed in the aforementioned study (Erdrich’s The Round House and Steel’s The Sins of the Mother) have some fairly stark differences, it’s important to remember that if a piece moves you, you’ll probably garner some benefits from having read it. And, of course, the sheer pleasure of reading is its own reward. Even the scientists conducting the study make clear that they did not want their results to be seen as a condemnation of so-called popular fiction. Ultimately, maybe what you read isn’t as important as the fact that you choose to read at all—so whatever kind of book you’re working on right now, please, keep reading!