Monday, March 03, 2008

Titlepage: The First Episode

As far as panel discussions go, the first episode of Titlepage, the new web show hosted by former Random House head Daniel Menaker, is nothing special. Richard Price, Susan Choi, Colin Harrison, and Charles Bock sit around on a spare set (the influence of the Bravo network and Charlie Rose is evident) talking about their respective books and the craft of writing in general. Anyone who's ever been to a book festival has probably seen something similar and possibly something a bit more raucous (all these panelists are pretty reserved). The set is dimly lit, with isolation spotlights casting a sometimes unflattering pallor over a few of the authors. Books hang on ropes in the background, similarly to how they might hang next to a toilet. Menaker guides the discussion through each title, summarizing the story and asking specific questions of each author. His questions are smart, and he creates a thoughtful atmosphere for discussion.

The episode definitely has its moments: Richard Price's terrific quote "There's no book that's more fun than the first book, because when you write that first book, you're a writer. After that, you're a goddamn author;" Charles Bock's bewilderment, as if he's stunned to be on the same show as these other authors; the description of Harrison's method of writing violence. I'm curious to see where the show goes, how it branches out from here. Obviously, its success will depend entirely on how compelling the guests manage to be.

This first episode features some terrific authors (although, in the interest of full disclosure, I didn't like Price's Lush Life very much at all), but it's nothing that will set your hair on fire, but I didn't find myself longing to click over to ESPN.com either. Frankly, it's exciting to see a show like this about authors. We live in a world where, with a few exceptions, chefs have become more recognizable than fiction writers. Here's to a show that pulls the writers out, wriggling and mole-like, into the light a little.

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