Book City: Terry Tazioli on bra lassoes & other literary matters

The host of PBS' "Well Read" needs two nightstands to hold all of his books. His most interesting author interactions and the tomes he recommends you read next.
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Terry Tazioli

The host of PBS' "Well Read" needs two nightstands to hold all of his books. His most interesting author interactions and the tomes he recommends you read next.

Terry Tazioli is the host of "Well Read," a weekly PBS author-interview show that has recently gone national. Before talking books on TV, Tazioli was a Seattle Times editor, an editor for the Journal American in Bellevue and a producer for KING-TV news. He’s that rarest of things — a native Seattleite.

What books are open on your nightstand right now?

I have two nightstands. Does that double the “Jeeze-I-haven’t-read-these-yet” torture? I think it does. “Hitler” by Ian Kershaw has been open — and closed — on the nightstand for months and months. Not that it’s not good. But it’s long and I have to be in the mood. I love history, especially the years around WWI and WWII. Caution: Just don’t fall asleep holding this book over your head. There’s also “Ghana Must Go,” by Taiye Selasi. I’m about halfway through that at the moment.

Have you read a truly great book lately? One you’d unhesitatingly recommend to friends and colleagues?

I was captivated by “Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami,” by Gretel Ehrlich and “The Roundhouse” by Louise Erdrich — the first non-fiction, the second fiction, both brimming with personalities and emotion.

I loved “Salt, Sugar, Fat” by Michael Moss. We all need to read this and not just because of our dietary needs. It is a brilliant example of what’s right about American journalism and investigative reporting. It’s the type of reporting and writing I pray never disappears from this democracy.

How long have you been professionally involved with books? What is it like to host “Well Read”?

I’ve never been professionally involved with books, except maybe tangentially as editor of the Scene section at The Seattle Times, and then as Travel editor. I love the show. It’s a long, long story of my landing in that seat along with Mary Ann Gwinn, books editor at the Times, as co-host, who I swear has read every book ever written and speaks so eloquently it makes me cry. Okay, I don’t cry, but man, I envy and admire her.

I do the featured author interview on the program and then join Mary Ann to talk about more books. I read every book for every interview. I can’t imagine sitting there without having done that. I’d be terrified. I never dreamed in a million years — maybe two million years — that I’d be doing this. At my age!

What is your favorite part of hosting the show?

I get to read cool stuff by very talented people and then I get to talk to them about it. That amazes me, sitting down to talk with authors, with people who do the research, create the characters, devise the plots, map the sequence of events, make the interpretations. This is a kid’s dream come true for me. I read like a madman when I was young and I always wanted to meet the people who wrote the books. I get to do that now. It blows me away.

Have you met an author or two that you got a big kick out of?

A kick, absolutely. J.A. Jance talking about her sister lassoing a horse with her bra. Ian Rankin inviting Mary Ann and me to join him at his favorite pub when next we’re in Edinburgh. “Just have the bartender call Ian. I’ll be down in 15 minutes.” And no, I’m not telling anybody where the pub is. Tony Angel, who brought a stuffed crow to the set and then proceeded to do a crow-in-distress call. I love that guy.

Can you think of a well-reviewed or much recommended book that just didn’t appeal to you, that didn’t live up to the hype?

Absolutely, but I just feel awful talking about that. I know, maybe that makes me a literary wimp. I will say that a series of books named for a particularly drab color (hint hint) caused a rather funny cousins’ argument over dinner one night. I kept quiet.

What do you read for your own personal enjoyment/nothing to do with work?

Crossword puzzles.

What were your most cherished books when you were a child? Can you name a childhood favorite that influenced you?

Oh man. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I read all of them. Twice. Maybe three times. That launched my passion for mysteries. How’s that for a true confession?

And your favorite mystery titles?

How about authors instead? Elizabeth George, Ian Rankin, Caleb Carr (except for his attempt at sci-fi, which was dreadful), Walter Mosely, Anne Holt and Stiegg Larsson.

Do you have a book or two that you’ve re-read over the years?

No – there’s too much that’s new and amazing to read. That said, there are some books I keep because they have had such a profound impact on my thinking and how I see the world. At the top of that list is Taylor Branch’s series on Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. Brilliant.

Do you tend to buy books, get them from the library? Download them?

Mostly I tend to buy… hardcover, soft and a few for my Kindle, which I use mostly for travel. My house is jammed with books. So is storage. I just gave nine boxes of books to Friends of the Library. It didn’t make a dent. The librarians just laughed. So did I.

When and where do you settle down to read?

At home on the couch or at a coffee shop. I choose the shop when I want to pause to stare at people. I love making up stories about them.

Do you read poetry? Any favorite poets?

Not usually, but I really liked “Plume,” a book of poetry by Kathleen Flenniken, Washington state’s poet laureate, all about Hanford, WA, and its nuclear power history.

Is there a book you turn to for comfort or to cheer yourself up?

I still have the collection of “Tales of the City” by Armistead Maupin. Love those books — always have. And I have all of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, by Alexander McCall Smith. If I had one dream it would be to spend the afternoon with Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi and a huge mug of bush tea. I love characters. They become friends. I have great friends.

What do you see as the future of books as we know them?

A guess is that books as we know them will be around for a long time. The page turning isn’t going away — there are too many people who love that experience. Electronic readers? Absolutely. I have one and I love it — mostly because I can blow up the type and read for a long time without my eyeballs feeling as if they’re about to turn inside out. Those are all tools (paper and electronics). Tools change all of the time. The book itself, our desire to tell stories, how could that ever go away?

What book(s) do you plan to read next?

I am laughing here. I have five: “Rin Tin Tin” by Susan Orlean, “Stories for Boys” by Greg Martin, “Bunker Hill” by Nathaniel Philbrick, “Hull Zero Three” by Greg Bear, “Life on the Edge” by Jim Whittaker. Yes, they’re all for the show. Don’t you envy me? Anybody have a spare couch?

What Val’s Reading This Week: I’m relaxing into Jacqueline Winspear’s new mystery “Leaving Everything Most Loved.” Maisie Dobbs is a compelling sleuth, scarred by her experiences as a nurse in WWI and now facing up to England’s coming involvement in WWII, as she works to solve a murky London murder.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Valerie Easton

Valerie Easton started her career as a librarian shelving books at Lake City Library when she was in high school. Now she writes full time, and has authored five books, includingThe New Low Maintenance Garden and her newest title Petal & Twig. She writes a weekly column and feature stories for Pacific Northwest magazine in the Seattle Times.