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Interview with a Book Lover Vick Mickunas, Host of The Book Nook

 

It’s hard to find anyone who has read more books or talked with more authors than Vick Mickunas has. The host of WYSO’s The Book Nook, Mickunas has been interviewing authors since 1994. He’s read thousands of books and conducted thousands of interviews over the years, both for his radio program and for his book review column in the Dayton Daily News.

booknookThe Book Nook, which airs on WYSO, 91.3 FM, Saturday and Sunday mornings, is sponsored by the Dayton Metro Library, along with several other public libraries in the region.

“We’ve been a Book Nook sponsor for about four years now,” said Diane Farrell, DML Director of Development and External Relations. “As literacy, access, and learning are DML’s core values, it makes sense for us. It aligns with our mission to inform, inspire and empower the community. And, it’s a nice partnership with our fellow library systems in the region who want to support our reading audience.”

Mickunas has interviewed some authors multiple times. He’s talked with James Lee Burke 19 times, Robert Crais 13 times, Elizabeth Berg 12 times and Ian Rankin 8 times. Conversations are leisurely; there is time to explore characters, plot, and the craft of writing in depth. Often, conversations veer off on interesting tangents unrelated to the book at hand.

“Whenever I do an interview, it is my ardent hope that our conversation will drift into unexplored territory, otherwise it can get somewhat mundane when we only talk about the book in question,” says Mickunas. “One of the many pleasures of having a good conversation is following where our dialogue leads us. That's why I don't prepare my questions in advance.”

It’s obvious to listeners of the program that authors enjoy speaking with Mickunas. They can tell he’s not just familiar with their book, he’s actually read it.

“If I have read the book, and read it closely, that's all the preparation I'll need,” says Mickunas. “When an author realizes, gosh, this guy has actually read my book and seems to have understood it - that's when we'll get into a flow that listeners will hear and think, wow, these people are really speaking to each other!”

Mickunas often reads additional works by the author, and quite possibly he’ll even read books the author has simply referenced or recommended.

“For example, this year I talked to Wendy Lesser about her book Scandinavian Noir - In Pursuit of a Mystery. As I was reading that book,” Mickunas says, “I discovered that she had been deeply impressed by the Martin Beck series of Swedish crime novels that came out 50 years ago. I wanted to become conversant with those books, which I had never read, so I read all 10 of them to prepare for the interview.”

Fun fact: Vick Mickunas has never read an eBook. While he owns most of the books he reads, he does take advantage of inter-library loan to find older or more obscure titles. And while he doesn’t watch much live television, he appreciates getting DVDs from the library and watching entire series in order.

“We watched every single episode of Perry Mason in order,” he says. “We are fans of many British programs like the adaptations of the Vera and Shetland novels by Ann Cleeves. Inspector Morse was fabulous. The library is such a great resource for obtaining DVDs, and since I am a Luddite - no eBooks, no streaming - that has been a godsend.”

Vick’s love of Libraries goes back to his childhood.

“When I was in the 4th grade, the Des Moines Public Library Bookmobile would park every Saturday from 9 until noon in the parking lot of our church. I would walk the block there to return the books I had borrowed the week before. The mobile librarians knew my tastes and they would usually have some new books about dinosaurs or the Civil War that they had brought along just for me! I have adored librarians ever since.”

Which interviews has he enjoyed the most?
Who would Vick Mickunas love to interview?
And how did he do when bestselling author George Pelecanos gave him a pop music quiz?

Read the full Q & A, below.

The Book Nook airs Saturday, 7-8 am and Sunday, 10:30-11 am on WYSO 91.3 FM
Presented by the Greene County Public Library, with additional support from Dayton Metro Library, Washington-Centerville Public Library, Clark County Public Library, and Wright Memorial Public Library.


Q & A with Vick Mickunas, Host of WYSO’s The Book Nook

How long have you been hosting The Book Nook on WYSO?

In 1994, I conducted my first radio interviews with authors. The first one I did was with the late Anne McCaffrey. Ten minutes after the interview ended, the studio phone rang. It was her co-author calling me to demand equal time. So I had my second interview that very same day! But it wasn't "The Book Nook" yet. I was just interviewing my first authors. After I had talked to quite a few of them, my colleague Anne Williams suggested that perhaps I might want to think up a name for my author interview segments. So I did. I left WYSO in 2003. Over the next four years I kept talking to authors because I was interviewing them for my Book Nook column in the Dayton Daily News. In 2007, I began interviewing authors again on WYSO and I have been doing it ever since. 26 years talking to authors. So far.

Do you have favorite genres?

The concept of genre can be a fraught one. We love to categorize and organize because then when we peruse library shelves or book store displays, we'll know where to look. Novelists can bristle at the term because they might feel their work defies genres. Whatever. I will tiptoe around a bit when I ask questions that refer to genres because authors can get a wee bit prickly.

I have favorite categories of books. In nonfiction I'm a sucker for history. I love reading about subjects like World War One, the U.S.S.R., and our Civil War. I savor books about words and language. With fiction, I am hopelessly addicted to mystery novels, the crime novel/thriller modes. I have many favorite crime novelists and I'll always have at least a dozen crime novels close at hand. Whenever I want to take a break from whatever I'm reading on a deadline for an interview or a book review, I'll grab one from the stack and dive into it for an hour or two. That's how I relax. Did you notice that some of the authors I have interviewed the most are crime novelists? I plead guilty.

Do you like to purchase books, or do you borrow them from your library?

Before I started interviewing authors, I had too many books. Since I began talking to authors the stacks of books have multiplied. If I spent 24 hours every day merely reading the books that I already have, I could not read them all even if I live to be 100 years old. I like owning books. I collect autographed first editions. With that in mind, one might imagine that I would not be acquiring more books. Apparently I have a problem, because there are all those millions of books that I have not read yet and I'm always finding excuses to get more of them. It's insane! Authors will tell me about books that they feel are essential and these are often books I haven't read. Inter-library loans within Ohio are fabulous for tracking down older titles. The other day I bought a used book on-line that James Lee Burke had mentioned. The author of the book died many years ago. When I opened it I found that it was inscribed by the author and is a first edition!

Have you been a reader your whole life? Were you a kid who loved reading and the library?

Before I entered kindergarten, my dad taught me my alphabet. During winter he would print each letter for me on the frosted glass of our windows with his index finger. We had an elderly neighbor, gosh, she was probably in her sixties! We called her Granny. When the weather was nice, Granny would sit with me on a bench behind her house and we would read books together. They were children's books. Every time I read through an entire book without making a mistake, she would give me a freshly baked cookie. Oatmeal and raisin. I really didn't care about the cookies. I loved reading books! I have never stopped.

When I was in the 4th grade, the Des Moines Public Library Bookmobile would park every Saturday from 9 until noon in the parking lot of our church. I would walk the block over there to return the books I had borrowed the week before. The mobile librarians knew my tastes and they would usually have some new books about dinosaurs or the Civil War that they had brought along just for me! I have adored librarians ever since.

During grade school, I caught the bus downtown to our majestic old main library and I would spend many blissful Saturdays engrossed among the stacks. That, or the bowling alley, was my concept of paradise.

When I was in high school, we had a fabulous library and I spent all my spare moments there. Charlene, the head librarian, appreciated my devotion. During my senior year she asked me to accompany her to the most incredible book sale ever. Every year Planned Parenthood had a sale that lasted one week and it filled an enormous exposition building at the fairgrounds. The Friday evening before the sale officially opened was reserved for librarians. I went with Charlene and pushed a shopping cart for her while she shopped. She said: "Victor, if you see any books you want, please put them in the cart. Roosevelt High School will pay for them in gratitude for you having helped me out tonight." Did I mention that I adore librarians?

Are you a writer yourself? If so, what do you write?

I write book reviews for the Dayton Daily News, so I suppose that makes me a journalist. I'm working on becoming a writer. For the last 18 months I have been writing a book about my experiences interviewing authors. I have chosen 365 authors and I'm writing accounts about each of those interviewing experiences. I was making some good progress when this pandemic hit, and I began to adopt a slightly different perspective about what I now consider to have been a lost age when all those authors actually went out on book tours. I'm doubting that can ever happen again.

Who would you love to interview that you haven't yet interviewed?

Dave Chappelle. I see him all the time in Yellow Springs. About 20 years ago I asked him if he wanted to be my guest on WYSO. He politely declined.

My generation of music idols from the 1960s and 1970s is dying off. Fortunately some of them are writing memoirs and I'm always hopeful that a musician I once adored will write a book and then become available for an interview. Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones wrote a really great memoir. I never had a chance of getting an interview with him. Perhaps someone in the celebrity second tier? Perhaps the artist I once knew as Cat Stevens? Someone from Fleetwood Mac? Peter Gabriel? Kate Bush? I have talked to a lot of musicians so I'm hopeful that one will write a book and then want to talk about it. I hear a former member of The Doors has a new book. I interviewed Ray Manzarek, their keyboard player, about 20 years ago, and he was fascinating.

Do you have a couple of favorite interviews to mention? What made them good interviews?

Last year I did my first interview with Sherrod Brown. Here I was talking to our U.S. Senator, a guy who surely has better things to do, and he was so warm and so kind and so personable, I couldn't get him off the phone! He kept chatting with me. I talked to him again this year and by comparison he was a bit frazzled. 2020 has been a tough year for all of us.

I collect material related to the disgraced President Richard M. Nixon. I have done two interviews with John Dean. Nixon's downfall was due to many factors, but when John Dean, his former White House counsel, decided to tell the truth about Nixon's coverup of the Watergate scandal, that finally spelled doom for Nixon. I treasure those conversations.

And I did two interviews with the late George McGovern, the man Nixon defeated in the 1972 presidential election. He talked about how, when Nixon's wife Pat died, he attended the funeral and there were some people at the ceremony who were being disrespectful towards him - what's he doing here!? McGovern talked about how Dick Nixon warmly thanked him for coming. This sort of classy behavior is something we could use more of in this time of deeply polarized electorates and politicians who seem to lack any sense of decorum or polite behavior.

Do you read one book at a time, or do you have many going at once?

I have about a dozen books going at the moment. I'm always reading some books on deadlines for reviews or interviews. I try to balance assignments with reading purely for pleasure. Fortunately, a lot of the books I choose to read for reviews/interviews are also books that I enjoy reading.

Sometimes your conversations with authors can veer off on interesting tangents. Do you recall any interesting topics - unrelated to books and writing - that you've discussed with authors?

I'm always hoping to have conversations that are spontaneous and unscripted - then you can focus in and really listen to what someone is saying - that makes for more compelling radio, I think. I can usually talk to anybody and find some common ground within about five minutes - but that requires listening. There are a number of novelists who like to insert musical references into their work; some crime novelists come to mind. They almost always make lots of music references.

George Pelecanos is an authority on the soul music he listened to during the 1970s in Washington, D.C. While he was immersing himself in those sounds and that subculture, I was in Des Moines listening to progressive rock. One time I had George in for a live interview, and I made a comment about all the wonderful musical references in his books. He proceeded to ask me if I wanted to take a music quiz. Well, I could hardly refuse. One would imagine that my music background might have given me some advantages. I managed record stores. I had been hosting music shows on the radio since 1979. When I was talking to George that day, I had been the WYSO music director since 1994. Even so, I lacked confidence because when it came to soul music of the 1970s, I was a neophyte. George posed his questions. They were quite obscure. One by one I failed to answer them as our live audience listened in and probably thought, gee whiz, Vick is a dummy! I flunked. I failed to answer even one of his questions correctly. He didn't laugh at me but I'm sure he felt like laughing. So embarrassing!

Then there's the Scottish novelist Ian Rankin. Ian's most famous fictional character, Inspector John Rebus, is a total music head and in every Rebus novel, he spends some time playing music and thinking about it. Rebus spins many records that I love and every time I talk to Ian we'll sally joyfully along our respective musical memory lanes. We can spend five to ten minutes just talking about bands we adored and concerts we have attended. We'll never wait until after the interviews have ended to have those discussions, we'll do it right during the interview. Ian and I share a passion for vintage vinyl record albums. We collect them. I love talking about music with Ian Rankin.

Do you have advice for readers? Like, how to get the most out of reading a good book?

I am not a speed reader. I read about a page a minute. I usually read for several hours every night before I go to sleep. I become completely absorbed in what I'm reading and the cares and concerns of my existence waft away during those precious moments. That helps me shut down my brain so I can fall asleep. I think that has to be a healthy thing. It works for me. Every time I start reading again, I will usually go back and re-read at least a dozen pages of what I read last. That helps me re-connect with the material so I have better comprehension.

What is your favorite reading scenario (such as sitting in a comfy recliner by a sunlit window with a glass of chardonnay on the side table and a large tabby cat on your lap)?

On wintry nights when you can hear the wind rattling in the eaves and I can nestle in front of a roaring hearth with at least one cat (I have 9 cats) on my lap in a recliner with that good book = BLISS.

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