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The love of words has fueled much of Terry Tazioli’s 40-year career. He’s been a print reporter, newspaper editor, television producer and news assignment editor. He’s also co-author of a New York Times bestseller, “Volcano: The Eruption of Mount St. Helens.” Currently, Tazioli is co-host of a public broadcasting program about books and writers called Well Read, where he shares the spotlight with Mary Ann Gwinn, The Seattle Times book editor.
Well Read airs on more than 250 public television stations, about 84 percent of the market. It’s a show for people who love words, enjoy reading and relish lively conversations with some of the world’s most provocative voices. During the half-hour format, Tazioli interviews a writer for the first half and co-host Gwinn follows up with related reading recommendations. We caught up with Tazioli recently to ask him more about books, authors and his own career.
You’ve interviewed authors from Pulitzer Prize winner Jon Meacham to Irish writer Colm Toibin. How do you prepare for the program?
Before an author comes on, I make a point of reading the entire book. I’m terrified of being with an author and not knowing his or her work. Even if I had read the book previously, I take the time to read parts of it again. Writers spend years creating these works, and they’ve done me a huge favor by coming on the show. In my mind, it’s a disservice not to read what they’ve written. I’ve since found out that is not the norm for television interviewers.
How many books do you read a week?
I read at least one book a week, more often two. I read the book of that week’s interviewee and, if there is time, something else that person has done. We work all year long, piggybacking on whenever an author comes to town. It’s a madhouse from August to early December when most books come out. We tape day or night, weekends or weekdays, and do roughly 40 shows a year.
What was one of your most memorable interviews?
I interviewed Gloria Steinem recently about her new book, “My Life on the Road.” What a stunning woman. She is 81 years old and still at it! She travels the world about half the year. In fact, she came to the studio right from the airport, toting her overnight bag. Steinem has really mastered the art of listening. She was fully engaged in our conversation, listening intently to every word I said.
When I asked her what she was most proud of, she said there were lots of things she feels good about, but she wondered if her best is yet to come. That answer stuck with me, and made me think a bit more about living my life in the future.
What other interviews stand out?
David McCullough, who released his book on the Wright Brothers last year, was one of the smartest and kindest people I’ve ever interviewed. After the show, he invited me to dinner at his house the next time I’m in Boston. Salman Rushdie was also very funny and very nice. Of all the authors I’ve interviewed, only Rushdie, and on different occasions, Erica Jong and Tavis Smiley, went out of their way to thank everybody on the crew, and I mean everybody. That kind of thoughtfulness made an impression on me.
Can you recommend any Italian authors?
Niccolò Ammaniti is one. He burst onto the publishing scene in 2001 with his book, “Io Non Ho Paura” (I’m Not Scared), which was later made into a movie by Gabriele Salvatores. In 2007, Ammaniti won the Strega Prize, a prestigious literary award in Italy, for his book “Come Dio Comanda” (As God Commands). I also recommend Dacia Maraini, who won the Strega Prize for “Buio” (Dark). Of course, Elena Ferrante’s four-book Neapolitan series is very popular now, too.
Surrounded by all these amazing writers, do you think you have a book in you?
I used to think I did, but these people scare me, they are that good! I know I am not supposed to think this, but I think: Could I even come close to what they have achieved? On the other hand, we all have stories to tell about ourselves, our families. It’s important these stories be told.
Speaking of families, tell us a bit about yours.
My father’s family is from outside Lucca and moved to Seattle. Growing up, I visited my Italian grandparents nearly every weekend. It was there I learned to cook, and my grandmother and I would read books together. My mother’s side was German from the Midwest.
Your show has been so successful. What makes you suited for this work?
I like to read all genres of writing and I’m fascinated by how successful writers approach their craft. I love getting inside people’s minds and hearts, deep down where the stories lie. These stories are what we are all about, every one of us. I’m also curious and outgoing, and love talking to folks. Sometimes it’s hard to stay focused on the work, but to be honest, I wouldn’t trade it.