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tv   Summer Reading with Senator Lamar Alexander  CSPAN  August 20, 2016 9:30pm-9:52pm EDT

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john rice erwin is the creator of the museum of appalachian. he could make anything. he could pull teeth, catch a squirrel and skin it, fry it and eat it. he was so interesting he was invited to washington to be part of the smithsonian folk life festival one time. if you want to get a sense of how some mountain people lived totally off the land, alex stewart by john rice erwin. >> host: a lot of famous politicians from tennessee. poke, a couple presidents like jackson and johnson. >> i mentioned two, john meechamp best book.
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he wrote a book not as many people know about. it is a short book and i think it is about the role of religion in america. i read polk's diaries. he sat down and must have with a quill pin, this was 1840s, and he wrote sometimes lengthy notes, probably 10-11 at night. something like senator houston showed up at 9 p.m. for an interview. took a long time but where read it all the way through. i don't know of any president who has written such detailed diaries. >> what is counterly on your reading list? >> i am reading a book at robert nole wrote. it is the biography of alex
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haley. he was a tennessee man and he is in the news because this is the 40th anniversary of roots which people may have forgotten was the best watched television show ever. about 85% of the american television sets watched some part of roots in 1977. alex haley's book is about slavery really told it in su such -- in terms that had not been presented before. when that was combined with the movie it just jolted the country. and it filled up the libraries with americans searching for their own family histories. robert noel is a university of tennessee professor who wrote a book about haley, about his two
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books, the autobiography of malcolm-x and then roots which the author says are the two most important books about black america in the 20th century and maybe two most important books about american culture in the 20th century. >> so that is one. what else do you have on that list? >> i am reading a couple of growing up by russell baker. john told me that was the best memoir. i love the way russell baker wrote. i just finished a book about lynn bean who lived to be 95. you would never have heard of him but he was blind and he was the last person to live in the great smoky national park because, you know, that park was bought by the states and people had to move out and they let him stay in there. i went to see him a few months before he died at the age of 85
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and that is his book. i am enjoyed reading about where i grew up in the mountains. >> where did you grow up? >> maryville. it is right at the edge of the great smoky national park. i can walk out my backdoor two miles and i am in the park. >> what about the book attracted you? >> i liked biographies and always have liked them. like most americans i loved anything hemmingway wrote but i have not read much of that lately. i thought on mark twain's books. i read a lot of biographies. senator fienstein gave me a book and i think it is called the
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death of caesar. it is about the senators who killed julia caesar. it is remarkably detailed. if you are a united states senator you read it with a certain amount of interest. caesar appointed -- the roman senate was about 500 senators and caesar appointed them all and about 30 of them persuaded him to come on the senate floor and stabbed him to death. >> do you share books are your colleagues? >> you yeah, we do. the senator from wyoming i mentioned him and he writes himself a book report on the books and tells me about books he likes. senator durbin reads a lot and he is in the gym sometimes when i am so we will talk about book. >> let's go back to maryville,
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tennessee. >> well, my parents -- "the new york times" interviewed my mother and wrote i grew up in a lower middle class family in the middle of the mountains and when i called him, my mother said you had a library card from the day you were three and a music lesson from the day you were four. you had everything you needed that was important. and i had people tell me in maryville my mother took me to down to the library and said we don't have library cards for three year olds and she should you should is and i got one. >> where do you get your books today, senator? >> i buy them, people send them to me -- diane feinstein gave
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me the caesar book. i bought john meecham's book. david rubenstein has things in the library of congress when he interviews authors so i get a book out of that. i basically buy them and if i hear about them and then i gave them away. i give the alex stewart book to about 300 friends at christmas one year. just because a lot of tenness tennesseens are interested in alex. >> a couple people have mentioned the series of bringing in authors. have you attended those regularly? >> i have gone to four or five. he does a terrific job and doesn't impose himself. i will say this to you, and you are doing a good job too if i
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may say. he knows the subject, asks dh questions and brings out the author and the authors who do the best are the ones who car hch ry on the best are the most balanced. an author was interviewed, bob woodward, and he did it very well. >> richard, you have a couple pictures here on your wall of you and richard nixon but that was before your political clear as governor of kansas city. >> oh, yeah, it interfered with me because the first time i ran for governor, i was called nixon's choir boy. i worked for a wonderful individual and i had a former
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eisenhower aid who has enormous respect from everybody. that was the beginning of the political activity. i started with howard baker but that was early in my time. >> senator alexander, as president of the university of tennessee what was your experience with the students when it came to reading, literature and classes being taught? >> i try to drop in on classes of interesting teachers. one of them who is not there anymore is richard marias. i created a governor's school for teachers of writing and he came down from harvard where he had then taught the freshman writing course to teach about 210 tennessee students how to write and teach students how to write. they might be third grade, fifth
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grade, senior enlish teachers so that was a part of the university of tennessee -- english -- that i had a lot of interaction with students and teachers. >> host: is there any value in a whole city saying everybody let's read this book or a university let's all read this book. is there a shared value to that? >> sure, there is. if y if you think about in 1977, roots was on tv for eight consecutive nights and 87% of the people watched at least one episode. i think roots as i mentioned did two things. it confronted americans with the ugly story of slavery and how brutal it was. and then the showed it was a
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family story. the seven generations and it caused americans to fill up the libraries with people looking for their own geneology. so there is an example of a generation watching something. >> host: is writing hard? >> yeah, i love to write. alex haley who i knew for ten years said he would write, correct his manuscript sometimes 26 times. i tell this to students who write a paper and turn it. i say alex haley won the national book award not by turning his book in the first time. we rewrote it. he always said use a green pen instead of a red pen because a
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red pen looks like i got you and a green pen is more friendly for corrections. >> you are an author as well? >> i tried to be. i enjoy writing but writing is hard. it is a skill that lots of young people today don't learn because they don't do enough. they are too glued to the screen and twitter. they are able to write a simple sentence with the essence and say it in plain english but you have to persuade people and being a good writer helps. >> what was your book six months off about? >> that was about six months our family spent in australia after i was governor. we picked the place because we had two teenagers and a seven year old. we lived in sydney and the kids
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went to school and that was our six months off. i had a friend peter jenkins who encouraged me about writing a book about being governor. i went to random house and the publisher said to me and meter what do you want to write about and he said lamar wants to write about what a great governor he has been and the publisher said your mother might read it. and he said what else are you doing and i said moving to australia sfr six months and he gave me an advance and out came the book. it was it was read in its entirety on national public radio. i thought about writing a memoir
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and i will probably call it what my grandfather used to say which is same for the top. there is nor reward there. but i am enjoying what i am doing now. >> a lot of your colleagues have written books. have you had a chance to read them? >> i just read mitch mcconnell's the long game and interviewed him for c-span for an hour. and i understand i don't think mcconnell can talk for an hour. he has a comment in the book about president george bush's staff coming in and saying mccob conal is excited about a vote and he said how can you tell because mitch doesn't talk much. i thought his book was very interesting. there were lots of stories like the polio he had.
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we forget how desperate people were seeing their kid in the iron lung. his mother took him to warm springs where president roosevelt was and learned something about what they did with therapy and for two years when he was two and three massa massaged his legs for an hour a day and kept him from walking. he credits that with the fact he can walk almost without a limp today. >> host: senator alexander, do you recommend any books to your staff? >> yeah, sure. i tell them about the books. i recommend "roots" to everybody because it is such an essential part of the american story. and the fact that it was such a learning experience for americans i think it really changed the way we think about
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african-american life in our country. it changed the way white people -- i have told them about the death of caesar because i think that would be interesting to anyone who worked in the senate. the book senator fienstein gave me. >> host: what about fun fiction? is there relaxation reading for y you? >> my favorite piece of fiction is "all the kings men" he was a gifted, gifted writer. he won a pulitzer prize and it
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is put together well and you can see stark and burden and you can know who they are and see the family difficulties and the pictures of life in louisiana. that is such a powerful book. another book, which is not fiction, is a book called the seven pillars of wisdom. this was florence of arabia and he wrote about the time in the desert back then during the world war one time. if you read the book, it has all of this enormous detail about the sand dunes and what happened during the day and this war and this movement and i don't know how you can remember it but it
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is some of the most elgant writing i have read. i read it at night to go to sleep. if i want to go to sleep i read about the seven pillars of wisdom and after a chapter i am zonked >> do you have enough time to read on the airplane? >> i don't read books on the airplane much. i go back and forth to tennessee which is an hour so i usually read a newspaper or catching up on work or sleeping. i read when i am by myself and before bed or sometimes early in the morning. in the summer i go fishing for a couple weeks and i will take books to read. >> this -- is mrs.alexander a reader? >> big time reader. we went to a discussion in
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nashville and she was talking about the best books which she had done for parade magazine and going through them i found my wife knew many of them and i knew new of them. >> lamar alexander, former university president and current senator, appreciate your time. >> online book seller amazon puts out a list of the well known cities across the u.s. with ranking based on data of purchased books, magazines and newspaper. seattle, washington tops off the list and it is home of amazon's corporate head quarters. portland, oregon is second and the nation's capitol third and san francisco and austin, texas round out the list of the top five. las vegas, tucson, san diego.
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baltimore, maryland is 11th on the list making it the second most well read city on the east coast. look for the article on to find out who all made the list. lara heimert, was coming out this fall? >> i am excited about the word detective by john simpson who is the formal editor and chief of the oxford dictionary who has been there for 40 years until retiring in 2013 and oversaw the complete transformation of dicti dictionaries. i think for anyone who read the professor and mad man you can remember the description of what it was like to assemble a dictionary in the 19th century. readers from all over the world
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submitted cards and send them to the oxford and they were put in card files. and whenever the dictionary was revised they would make it into the next round. it took an incredibly long time to update new meanings of words or etmall they discovered. now you have crowd sourcing and people reporting tweets and website. it has always led them to have to go back and relearn whole words that, you know, with all of the newspapers online you can discover usage no one ever heard of the last time the dictionary was revived. it is extraordinary revolution in language. along the way, he


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