The Valley's PBS outlet, Channel 8, has long been recognized for its local lineup of dull talking heads. Is there a sauna bench in any YMCA more stultifying than KAET's Horizon show?
Quick! Mark Flatten: In what city would you be most likely to smack that Flemish-peasant head of yours by walking into the Berlin Wall?
But never mind all that. With the tweedy-sounding Books & Co., KAET is ready to hoist cocktails.
You can toast co-hosts Jana Bommersbach and Ron Carlson for the vitality of the new program.
The appeal of these two isn't simply their contrast to KAET's usual lineup of self-satisfied toads. Bommersbach and Carlson are also a stimulant to commercial television's narcotic bite.
You know what I'm talking about.
You turn on the television and use the remote control to jump continuously from station to station creating a 36-channel movie, a Bedlamlike stream of consciousness that makes absolutely no sense, but is twice as interesting as anything listed in TV Guide.
Bommersbach and Carlson are the sort of conversationalists, however, who can get you to pause, no matter what stage of attention deficit disorder afflicts you.
The plain truth is Ron Carlson could talk the ears off a ferret.
But because Carlson is more likely to say, "I read somewhere that . . ." rather than "I think . . ." or the even deadlier "I once wrote . . ." , he is never a bore.
And Bommersbach is like a visual jolt of Prozac. You'll feel better just watching her on the air. Why isn't everyone on television this generous and engaging?
It is also one of life's more pleasant surprises to discover Jana actually discussing someone else's work.
KAET, Bommersbach and Carlson should be congratulated for trekking over literary landscape that, in Phoenix, is hardly even congealed. Known nationally as a bad town for books, the community just lost another independent bookstore, Dushoff Books Ltd., for lack of support. And if the timing for a show devoted to authors in the Southwest is hardly propitious, the very format of a program devoid of steroid abusers and car wrecks is dicey.
In fact, the premiäre telecast on April 17 with Jana and Ron interviewing each other about their own recent books, The Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd and Plan B for the Middle Class, respectively, almost collapses in self-consciousness. Clearly, these are two hosts in search of someone who will listen long enough to be identified as a guest.
Too bad. Plan B is a marvelous collection of short stories with "Blazo" suggesting that Carlson has even more substantial work in front of him once he abandons the literary pyrotechnics on display in the quirky, but ultimately silly, "On the USS Fortitude."
Is Carlson working out larger themes? We'll never know because he wasn't asked. As for Bommersbach's trunk murderess, the Winnie Ruth Judd book really does deliver to the reader an insider's view of an American crime legend, but how did a normally lucid journalist like Jana end up with a book that is such an indigestible knockwurst?
Ron and Jana are too civilized and gay to ask hard questions of each other, or their guests, for that matter.
But oddly enough, once Bommersbach and Carlson begin alternating in the spotlight and abandon the opening show's joint-host format, the broadcast begins to zip and the prevailing ethic of delicacy and decency proves no hindrance.
You see, the guests, because they are writers, do not need the rude provocation to respond with insight into their work. An appreciative and receptive Carlson or Bommersbach is more than enough stimulus.
For example, when Carlson hosts Alberto Rios on April 24, the discussion about the author's new work, The Iguana Killer, is illuminating. Rios parses the difference between the usual gringo description of his work, "magical realism," and the more useful Hispanic understanding of "the marvelous real."
Later in the telecast, Carlson recalls a review in which it was suggested that "a short story is an author's response to the most important questions he or she can ask."
Rios will have none of this gravity.
"I don't think I ever want to deal with the most important question I have," protests a cowering Rios. "I wouldn't do it justice . . . we're going to fail."
As a reader, then, I now understand why I have the uneasy feeling with Rios that he uses "magical realism" or "the marvelous real" the way some writers use science fiction--as a crutch to avoid the frightening consequences of confronting that which is actual. In fact, several years ago when Rios learned that his submission to New Times' annual fiction collection had not secured the top position and instead was in the second-place slot, he sought to withdraw his entry. Such is Rios' obsession with failure.