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Watching the writers: Titlepage.tv

March 19, 2008 |  3:09 pm

Titlepage_ep1

I waited to watch the new literary coffee klatch Titlepage until the second episode was live, in hopes that it would begin to find its footing. As the first major Internet talk show about books -- whose host, Daniel Menaker, has serious editorial credentials -- it's a welcome, perhaps overdue, Internet venture.

After two episodes, it's clear that the show still has some kinks to work out. I was hoping for a show reminiscent of Dick Cavett's, all momentum and jittery intelligence, but it's more Charlie Rose-esque (plodding, people sitting in a circle).

The biggest challenge is the structure: All the authors sit on set as Menaker speaks to one after another, for about 10 minutes each. So in the first episode (pictured), Richard Price, Susan Choi, Colin Harrison and Charles Bock each spent 30-plus minutes in silence, waiting to be addressed, looking like uncomfortable schoolchildren. Why not take a cue from Rose and film the episodes discreetly? Or from Letterman and Leno and bring out one writer at a time, leading up to a hilarious multi-author conclusion? And how about a nice cushiony couch? I'm not the first person to notice that those chairs look awfully uncomfortable.

Although the first episode had a little author-on-author discussion (more! more!), the second, which was apparently filmed first, never let the authors talk to one another. What memoirists Sloane Crosley and Julie Klam might have discussed with Ceridwen Dovey, who's written a fable of violence, and Keith Gessen, who says that the character closest to him in his novel isn't the one named Keith, will remain a mystery.

Also, Menaker, who looks great, doesn't yet have the hang of reading off TV prompters. And while his elegantly scripted transitions from author to author give the show a nice flow, the pre-planning means that he's often veering away from the conversation thread. Although he seems to wane over the course of these 45- to 60-minute shows, it would still be nice to see him ask a natural follow-up question rather than shuffling to the next index card.

Despite the show's shortfalls, it contains a few surprise gems. Dovey, despite speaking last, was fantastically articulate, pithy and thoughtful. Bock's eager and candid discussion of craft was inspiring. And Price's admission of the extent to which he outlines, just to forestall doing his real writing, will be a comfort to procrastinators everywhere.

Carolyn Kellogg
 

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