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tv   Interview with Adam Bellow  CSPAN  December 25, 2015 6:15pm-7:01pm EST

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whose book, one of the books i'm proud to have published. jim wilson was one of my intellectual heroes, a great social scientist and criminologist. jim's book is called the moral sense and when jim died a couple of years ago and i read an encomium to him one of his former students said the moral sense was his favorite look and the one that he was proudest of. that was wonderful. i became known for publishing books by conservatives by firebrands, young firebrand. back in the early 90s i made my first splash with the book by dinesh d'souza called illiberal education which is one of the first books to deal with the fall of the legal correctness on campus. i followed that up with a book by david brock who was at that time a conservative, it was a
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frantic look at the evidence given in the hearings. a major bestseller that i published after that was called the bell curve by charles burney and richard bernstein and since then books of note, one of the books that i'm proudest of having published is called denying the holocaust by deborah dads, but that we had to twist evers i'm too published because she didn't want to give holocaust denial a forum. she said it's not a good idea to publish a book about them because that's what they want. they want attention and they want to be taken seriously. we persuaded her that it was an important subject and interestingly enough she was sued in a british court by david irving, a famous holocaust denier and she won. i believe he went to jail so very satisfied with that outcome.
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a few years ago in the earlier part of 2000 i published jonah goldberg's liberal fascism which was a lot of fun. more recently sarah palin's going rogue and america by heart and currently a book by peter schweitzer who has been on the bestsellers list for many weeks. with many these authors i have published multiple books. dinesh d'souza and i have published five or six books together. i have been reunited with many these people as i have moved around from house to house. it's one of the nice things about longevity as an editor. as an editor your stock is a list of authors and your list of authors is very important and you hope that they will move with you and follow you from house to house and that's
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largely been the case. it's very gratifying. it does require patience. i always say editors have to be patient people because it sometimes takes years to get a book out of somebody. a good example is arthur brooks head of the american enterprise institute. i met arthur five years ago or so or six years ago where he was made president of aei. he had already published a number of serious and interesting books with basic books. i was very interested in him. we had a long conversation and he became an institutional figure in washington. he continued to write books for a while but finally five or six years later i have a book by arthur coming out in july called the conservative heart. a book that i think is very important because it opens up, i hope it will open a new kind of discourse on the right, one that
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counters the left brained focus of the conservative movement and introduces a little bit more of a right brain elements, a book that tries to sort of balance -- well it's really in the way of bookends to a famous volume by russell kirk called the conservative mind, a book that is launched beacon -- movement and now it's 50 years later or what have you and we are publishing the conservative heart. arthur's idea is that liberal policy goals can best be achieved by conservative means and so it's sort of a brilliant subversive book and i'm looking forward to published it very much. also on the list, ted cruz.
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a book published in june and i'm sure that will get a lot of attention. these are some of the books that i have published in the past that i have coming out. >> how did you become a specialist in conservative firebrand books as you call them? >> it wasn't something i set out to do. if someone had told me that that's what i was doing i would have reconsidered it but i might have diversified myself a little bit. as i said i started out as a general interest nonfiction editor or terry to publish books on a wide friday of academic disciplines, history, politics anthropology, religion take a lot of books on jewish subjects which has always been an interested mine. the conservative books were the ones that were the most successful and within two years or so of starting to work in publishing i had a hit.
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what happened when i learned about publishing is that publishing, the publishing industry is not run scientifically. it's not very organized and it's sort of like a great area reef. it's a very complex structure with all kinds of little caves and holes with fish darting in and out. if you are brighter and you want to place your book or you want to find the right publisher and editor you need help. that's why it's a matchmaking function. it's difficult to find the right person. >> host: who is the right person for you is an app there? and an editor who resonates with your book who is passionate about your book who will be your most energetic champion and advocate? that's who you want and it's very difficult to find that person.
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what happens naturally in publishing is as you get to be known for doing a certain kind of thing, the aging community behind that world of authors identify you as somebody who does this kind of the thing. it could happen just as well if you are a science editor or whatever it is. there are institutional pressures and for a long time that seemed like a good thing. at a certain .1 could begin to feel its declining. i have not felt that way however because within the world of conservative publishing there's a great deal of variety, ideological variety, and of course i'm not limited to publishing conservative books. i'm also the executive editor at harvard -- harpercollins and appear in the harper listed one
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of the things that's interesting is that more and more books by conservative authors are being published on the list which for example cleansing cash a conservative journalist published on the harper list. heretic which i published a couple of months ago and i think that speaks to a promising development, positive developments which conservative views are becoming more except a bull in the mainstream. when i started out in this niche there was no presence of conservative books and mainstream publishing -- publishing. it was only regnery which is a venerable publishing company but really a sectarian outset that is outside and proudly so, outside the mainstream. we at the free press myself and the publisher of the pre--- free
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press and my mentor in the business were engaged in an effort to break down barriers to conservative ideas and expressions. it was an exciting and consequential thing to do. after sometime, after 10 years or so when we had enough success the large publishing companies woke up and realized that there was in fact a mass-market, sizable market for conservative books and a special interest began to be created. there are now four at the present count dedicated to the conservative imprint and beyond that editors all over town are publishing books by conservatives so we are in a completely different context now as political publishers. >> adam bellow do you have to
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agree with robert to be a good editor? >> guest: well now, and in fact it's better if you don't in some ways. this is a very good question and one that is somewhat difficult to answer in a blanket and general way because each book in each other's different. i would say it's always your intellectual editor or somebody who publishes books that are intended to advance an argument you are doing the author's service. you are challenging him or her. even if you do agree with them. it's most important the argument be made away that is ironclad, that is properly substantiated and expressed in a way that is situational. i don't consider myself to be a sectarian editor. i have for a long time thought of myself as somebody who was originally liberal and in many
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ways like many conservatives nominal conservatives. i am a new yorker first. i grew up here. i'm from new york. that is like a patient's category. many of my social attitudes are liberal. everyone i live among, my family, my friends, my colleagues are all liberal and i don't like to differ with people i live and work with two sharply so i find although it's a little bit off topic it's related. i really am doing it for them and my feeling is, let me put it this way. somebody who grew up here within the enclave of a pre-site journalist liberalism and then made an intellectual journey to
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the right, i then felt like plato's philosopher. i left the cave and became enlightened but then what's my obligation to my friends and family? it's to go back and bring news to them and another way of looking at things. that's what i considered to be my function. have i thought of myself as bringing news of the outside world if you will to american liberalism. particularly great powerful institutions in the media, "the new york times" and outfits like that. unbeknownst to them and unaware in a way they all generally agree with each other and they don't think of themselves as having another point of view necessarily but there are certain institutional thoughts so they have become impervious to other points of view. the fact is that the country's
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conservative. and i find over the years there are many more conservatives writing up and down elevators in your apartment building or office building so that sort of my sense of mission. although i would add over the course of the years that i do what i do. the surrounding conditions have changed and not in a positive way. when i started out, with books that were controversial of course personally and professionally i got a kick out of starting an argument. when we published a books like a liberal education or the bell curve you sit in your office and in those days you had an inbox and physical pieces of paper would pile up in it and there would be reviews and columns and
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articles and finally letters written to the editor from small midwestern newspapers are spawning to your book and it was very very satisfying and you had rang the gong and made an impact. people heard about it. that's a publishing is. when people asked me to talk about publishing i always say a primal act of publishing is martin luther nailing his 99 theses to the door at wittenberg and you have to imagine that's what the publisher does. imagine you are martin luther and its 15 whatever and you are sitting in your cold apartment studio and your robe is scratchy and you are uncomfortable and you are very bad and you are writing and writing. you come up with this list of arguments and then you save yourself what am i going to do with this?
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the world has to know. what did he do? he went to the town square and nailed it to the door of the cathedral so everybody could see it. that's sort of the spirit of the kind of publishing that i like to do. in the old days it used to be possible, almost too easy to set off a national controversy around the book. there was one real platform, one microphone, one megaphone and everyone was competing to get access to it. the culture was sort of unitary and there were only three broadcast networks and some influential magazines. there was no one culture and there was a question of who is going to get access, what point it is going to get access to that platform? overtime as we all have seen that has changed to the culture
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is no longer unified. there are many many competing voices and outlets and platforms and different media and as it has developed, i find it has become increasingly difficult, i would say almost impossible to generate a controversy around the book. it's been some years in fact since i found that it was possible to do that and another reason for that is fairly clear. the political media have divided this kind of bifurcation between the fox media on the right and the "msnbc" media on the left and the people who agree with those points of view and those messages, read and listen to what is broadcast and published for them and the political culture, the public culture of ideas as a result i think has become polarized and it's been
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harmful to the culture and it's been an obstacle to a publisher who feels there's positive die when stimulating controversy. >> host: isn't it the same with a broadside books, only conservatives are going to buy liberal education? you are not going to get the broader audience to buy these books. >> that's a very interesting question. it isn't always what it seems to be. the thing that made the liberal education successful originally in my view is that dinesh d'souza was make an argument, remember this was a time in the early 90s when there was a lot of people on campus. there was a movement to introduce a multicultural curriculum. there was a demand for courses that reflected the greater
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diversity and also there was a demand for the greater diversity of faculty and a the debate about how to revise the canon whether we should still read shakespeare for example or if we would be better off reading maya angelou. not to pick on her but that's just an example. and there was at that time on campus in the world of enlightened educated liberals a hidden rift, a division that had not been brought to light. this was a think a rift between the radical avant-garde, campus off on guard, the young turks of the multicultural movement and the traditional faculty. people had been raised and educated and brought up in the western canon and you felt that it had value and wanted to preserve it. these people one could sense
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were somewhat uncomfortable. not so much with the idea of broadening the canon and incorporating it to be more inclusive and putting more voices and that the idea of throwing away tried-and-true classics, things that were civilizing influence in the plays of shakespeare in being a good example. so i think the common view of the conventional middleground liberal is the radical on the left basically well motivated and well intentioned. they have the right idea but they are a little hasty. maybe they are moving too fast. maybe they are throwing something away that has value and should be thrown away so what i found to be the case and this isn't hindsight looking back, when you publish a controversial book you are
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basically getting a roar shack of the public mind. then you have to study it and ponder it and interpreted to decide what it means. in this case what i've concluded from long consideration of this are sponsored to this book is that d'souza came along and made arguments that he express a point of view that many liberals that he privately agreed with didn't have -- to express. they didn't cast upon themselves the role of being bullied and intimidated and ostracized. often it's what happens in those settings. when dinesh came along and made this argument there was first of all a knee-jerk reaction from
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the forces of the multicultural movement which created a tension and the conservatives came to it but also many of those middleground centrist traditionalist liberals who noticed the book because of the controversy around it and he decided to open it up and read it. that's where my role as an editor is critically important. d'souza and i agreed that those were our real audiences. they were open-minded liberals that were a real audience. we were writing the book to persuade them, not to beat up the left. it's fun to beat up the left a little bit. of course the same thing could be said of the right. i'm not partisan in that respect there are clowns and fools on both sides. the vast majority of book
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readers in this country are or were educated liberals so we decided the book should be written in such a way that we could persuade an open-minded liberal reader that there was something to be said for this point if even that was part of the effort to bring conservative viewpoints into the circle of enlightened opinion. that is what we were trying to accomplish and i think we did accomplish it. so was short and i still haven't mastered the art of giving a short answer and i apologize. i feel it's okay to digress. the value in publishing a book like that is it creates a controversy that generates tension and then it draws people to the book and then the book has to stand on its merits. it was my commitment to making
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sure that every book i published particularly the controversial books were written and argued in such a way that they could have persuaded an open-minded person on the other side. fast-forward 25 years to clinton cash, so here's a book that takes on the clintons, bill and hillary and looks at an investigative way at the operation of their foundation and doesn't specifically draw any conclusions but simply says here is a pattern of activity that looks suspicious. we are not saying that they did anything wrong but maybe some competent legal authority should look into this. what is interesting is in the same way as the d'souza book uncovered a rift within the
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liberal academy hunting caches uncovered a rift i think within the democratic party and more broadly within the liberal mainstream media which is to say some people believe very strongly in bill and hillary clinton and want to see hillary elected president and other people maybe don't like or trust them so much and they have doubts about them and their bodies been doubts about the clintons back as far as i remember when they first came to washington. there was ambivalent about them. it was unclear what their history was in dealmaking in arkansas and the use of lincoln bedroom to raise money for the democratic party. there was a sense that it was not correct to break ranks and
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criticize them. this book comes out evidence that has been persuasive to many serious liberal journalist and at times the "washington post" notwithstanding the fact that peter schweitzer is a conservative. that is our facts and they can't be denied. in other words there are books that come along at a certain time that make an argument that somebody once made that a certain group of people a demographic people would like to hear made. it's an argument that wants to be made and wants to be heard. when it's made it divides opinion in such a way that people have to choose a side. then you find out what people really believe.
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>> just as an aside with the peter schweitzer book broadside had to do some corrections in a book, correct? guess why couple of points to make. it every book has errors. i remember years ago, you remember the book backlash which was all about people are prevented from advancing in various settings. hugely successful in the hugely popular vote. somebody i know on the right to the catalogue of errors on that hook and brought it to me as a manuscript and said would you publish this as a book? it was the first time anyone has ever suggested that to me. publish a book that catalogs errors in another book but that just indicates that everybody in publishing does this. the new york times runs corrections every day. they have a large structure of
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internal checking and oversight. it's almost impossible to publish a book that doesn't require corrections. a book written and published under pressure of time to get a book out quickly. so it's inevitable. what is distinctive and what is special to this case is there is an apparatus, a political apparatus that has been signed to the clinton machine and has assigned its members to research and study the book in fact check everything in it. as operational courses run by my old friend david brock to have this done to him when he published a book about anita hill and one about hillary back in the 90s. he learned how to do it from the
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clinton machine. so this is what they do. when david's book was published as i recall back in i guess 94 i think it was there was an effort to fact check. every fact was checked by an adversarial operation and as i recall "the new yorker" published a long article by john mayer and jill abramson attacking the book and citing errors. how many errors were there? they found three errors in the book and one of him was the video shot for clarence thomas supposedly rented a pornographic video. so you know this is a game. this is how the game is played. obviously we want our books to be accurate. if you bring an error to our attention we will correct it but the idea that somehow the findings of the book and the
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general i get the book officiated by the errors is to misunderstand the nature of investigative journalism. >> host: adam bellow you wrote in the national review, if you could control the use and meanings of words as orwell showed in 1984 they could not be used to express or formulate the thoughts that might inform such intellectual resistance. the left has eyes understood the importance of language. >> guest: into question his? >> host: explain that. >> guest: the article which you quote is a cover piece that i published last summer at the national review called let your right brain run free and it was an article announcing the emergence of a new wing of
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conservative -- of the conservative movement, a kircher kircher -- a cultural wing and the story i will very quickly give you background on this. as i said i've been in nonfiction editor throughout my career but beginning a few years ago i began to hear from conservative authors of mine who had written novels and romances i've written a novel and would you read it and consider publishing it? i read it and i talked to my publisher of harpercollins. the upshot of our discussion was well these novels are a little too sectarian. when we add harpercollins published a works of fiction where publishing them for the broadest possible audience. so these books and i should be clear, they are basically genre
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novels, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, detective novels -- novels will be called pulp fiction or genre novels. these were instances of genre but with some kind of conservative theme. maybe the private eye is a conservative like sam spade. his commentary has a conservative cast. it's not like novels about the keystone pipeline for example which is one of the possessions of the political right today but sort of a sensibility or a point of view that infuses a work of narratives, of narrative fiction. a certain point i started looking into this and i realized it wasn't just writers here and
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there, it was scores come in fact hundreds of people, right-wing, many libertarians actually who were inspired by the advent of the rise of amazon, by the advanced of digital self publishing technology to write and publish their own works. and yet they were having a lot of difficulty finding and connecting with their natural audience. so it seemed to me the best thing to do would be to create a place, a home on the web, a web site as a platform and gathering place for these conservative fiction writers so i founded a web site called liberty island which can be visited at liberty island mag.com and it's a short
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story magazine fiction written by and for conservatives writers and readers. the point of my article in the national review was to make a broader point that there was what i call a resurgence of the right train, the conservative right brain was not just limited to fiction. it was a broader phenomenon across the spectrum of creative endeavor and you find it in popular music, and film and video, graphic arts, comics. there are even videoed game designers. it's a broad cultural movement and the argument of my article is that it amounts to a counterculture and in order to set the stage for this argument
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i look back at the counterculture of 1970s in the era when i grew up and i made the argument that what had begun as a counterculture in those days had become the establishment culture and now in the nature of things that establishment excludes points of view with which it does not agree and a certain pressure builds up in the margins. people who feel their perspective is not being reflected in the national media in the panoply of popular culture and so i countered cultural energy, countercultural spirit arises and that is what has animated the new conservative right brain creators. so i will call attention to this and the comment that you quoted
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really refers to the experience that i had as a young person and i told the story about having gone to a science fiction clarion writers workshop back in 1976 and encountering for the first time, i countered for the first time an ideological point of view that was quote progressive that is largely feminist and i was told by advocates but this point of view that there were certain words that you couldn't use in and certain ideas they could express, that it was wrong, that was harmful, that it was dangerous and i realized two things. first of all words do have consequences. language is very very important. there is a struggle over the meaning of content of words not just what words are allowed to
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be used but what they actually mean. diversity for example, what does that mean? it means one thing to me and it might mean another thing to you. we have to argue about the content of the meaning but there also is a power struggle, a culture war if you will going on within the creative arts. i found conservatives today are unaware and largely detached from this aspect. i have been a culture war editor for 25 years. i published a controversial and i hope significant book in the effort to break down barriers to conservative ideas and perspectives but i found the conservative movement as a whole have completely abdicated the
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field of popular culture as though it didn't matter. well it does matter. it's very important and so, and this is separate from my day job at harpercollins gets my own enterprise and i'm trying to participate, to step in and play a role. when i came into the conservative intellectual and now you there were a number of institutions that have been created by farseeing visionary individuals, people like irving kristol who got mine job -- got me my job in publishing. these are people who saw that conservative scholars and academics were being forced out of positions and they weren't able to regain tenure in american universities. so an alternative institution
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needed to be created. foundations had to be endowed to support those things and it means had to be created to publish the views of people in the think tank supported by the foundation. it was a whole consciously designed enterprise and brightly successful and i consider myself to be a product and the beneficiary in large part of that farseeing visionary enterprise. i now am at the age or older than my mentors. i consider them to be the grown-ups in my field so they are gone but i feel if they were here today they would be active in the field of popular culture. they would be taking the steps that are necessary to raise awareness, to create energy and
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focus, to really lead if you will and what i find is the more i have gotten out of my corporate publishing locks and gotten out into the broader world with conservative activism and enterprise i find there are many other people who are working in this area, people who are creating music labels and build companies and doing animation and graphics and so forth. these people don't talk to each other. i was on a panel recently hosted by the national review institute and we had a segment on popular culture. it was me and two guys from the hollywood film industry. we were on stage iv half an hour we talked shop.
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i learned a lot and the main thing that came out of it was the takeaways for me was that we in different industries don't talk to each other enough. the thing that distinguishes me and maybe it's something 11 wants is it the beginning of an interview, thing that distinguishes me from most other authors in american publishing is i'm not just a business person. i'm in business and i need to choose and publish books that make money and that's very important. i'm an intersection of ideas and commerce and i'm capitalist and commerce is very important. if you publish books that people don't buy he made the wrong decision and that's not good. but going beyond that role i really am to some extent part of a larger movement and i would feel calm and getting back to the question you asked about the
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differences whether i agree or disagree with anybody it's not my job as an editor. one of things i like about being an editor is i don't have to have a position about every public question. i am not a columnist or a magazine editor. i have the privilege and the luxury of being able to work with people across the sector and my work involves helping them to make the best arguments that they can given the materials that they have to work with. it isn't my job to tell them that they are wrong. it's my job to help them be more right and to be more persuasive. it's a technical skill. facility that i have. i'm not in ideological conservative. i'm not pushing a particular line and there are topics that i'm not interested in pushing because they don't appeal to me
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or don't have a visceral sense of identification. for example i would never be interested in publishing books about marriage. i don't have any problem with marriage. i have a lot of friends. i grew up in new york. what does that mean? does that mean i'm not a real conservative? now, it means i don't choose to take a stand on that issue. that's not my issue. i have issues that i do care about and among my friends we were talking over a beer but in my role as an editor not and not an ideologue. i'm a facilitator and my job is to help to make the best possible argument. in my opinion the conservative movement to the extent that i consider myself a part of the conservative movement, which i do it my judgment that we have certain problems that need to be addressed on the idea side but
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the big problem that i see is the abdication of the field of popular culture and in my capacity as a private citizen and entrepreneurs i'm trying to do something about that. >> host: liberty island.com. adam bellow and couple of new books are being published. as your biography of your father. guest:we are going to talk about that? >> i was going to mention it. it's not our focus today but have you been asked to review those? have you thought about reviewing them? >> guest: now. no one has asked me to review. we are talking about in case people don't know my father saul bellow the novelist who is deceased for 10 years and there's a new biography that has come out, one of the 2-volume work and also a collection of my father's nonfiction pieces which
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is wonderful. and now i have not been asked to review either of those books. actually it's an interesting idea. but i have read them and privately i have talked to people who have asked me what i think and what i feel and what i think of it all and i guess i would say -- let me put it this way. last week there was a reading at the 92nd street y.. a group of writers including my father's biographer and his widow, janice. ..
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an immigrant family, a afamily, a classic immigrant experience in many ways. i learned a lot about my family. >> if you could commission somebody to write your family history, i am sure you would do it. i have to say, one minute of listening to my father's voice speaking, reading or speaking extemporaneous extemporaneous ly is worth a thousand pages of biography. the fact is,

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