The host of the Book Nook has interviewed thousands — now Vick Mickunas answers questions

Credit: Contributed photo

Credit: Contributed photo

Name an author and most likely Vick Mickunas has interviewed them.

Studs Terkel, Amy Tan, John Glenn and Anne Lamott are among the more than 1,500 interviews he’s done as host of the Book Nook on WYSO.

The bibliophile also writes a companion column for the Dayton Daily News that appears Sunday in the Life section.

Credit: Contributed photo

Credit: Contributed photo

Mickunas kicks off National Book Month with his take on writers, readers and interviewing his childhood hero.

How long have you been writing the Book Nook column for the Dayton Daily News and interviewing authors for the Book Nook on WYSO?

In 1993, I left Iowa and came to Yellow Springs. I was chasing after a woman. I ended up marrying her. In Ohio, I was thrilled to discover this amazing radio station, WYSO. I called WYSO and talked to the late Ruth Yellowhawk. I told her that I am a radio guy and asked how I might help them out? Soon I was hosting Afternoon Excursions on WYSO. I started getting requests to interview authors. I told them I am a music host, I can’t do that. Then one day I thought, why the heck not? So I did my first radio interviews. I had no clue what I was doing. I read the books and learned as I went along. That was 1994. During the late 1980s I had been a market researcher in Iowa and I spent a lot of time interviewing difficult subjects who really did not want to speak to me; farmers, truck drivers, I even did political polling. Those experiences laid a foundation for me to talk to almost anybody about nearly anything.

At the Cityfolk Festival in 2004, I got into a conversation with Ron Rollins of the Dayton Daily News (who retired earlier this year). I had interviewed Ron on my radio show. That day I suggested I could write book reviews for the DDN. He agreed. Ron was my first editor. I have been filing book reviews for 16 years. Thanks, Ron.

Credit: Contributed photo

Credit: Contributed photo

What is your favorite or most memorable interview?

I have hundreds of favorites so I’ll go with my most memorable. When I was a child, the astronaut John Glenn was my hero. I got to interview John for his memoir. We talked about his youth. He told some captivating stories about his days as a fighter pilot during the Korean War. We covered his career as a test pilot and as an astronaut. After chatting for an hour, we still had not gotten up to his time representing Ohio in the U.S. Senate, his presidential candidacy, or even his return to space as a senior citizen. It was a live interview, I was supposed to switch over to the programs that followed mine. But I didn’t. We kept on talking. I rolled over the news break then rolled right over Fresh Air with Terry Gross. We kept going. He was fabulous. My childhood hero. And I didn’t hear a single complaint from listeners or from anybody at WYSO after I rolled over those shows. Nobody questioned what we had done. They were all glued to their radios!

October is National Book Month. Why do you think this is an important commemoration?

For me, every day of the year is National Book Day. They present the National Book Awards in October and I am always tickled when an author I know wins one of those prizes. Don’t get me started on the importance of books. We don’t have the time or the space here for my opinions on that.

Do you prefer reading traditional books or using a tablet? Why?

Give me a book printed on paper that I can hold in my hands as I fall asleep. I love the way they feel and how they look and the way that authors can write something inside them and sign their names. A signed first edition of a really great book is such a treasure.

Credit: Contributed photo

Credit: Contributed photo

How many books do you read each year?

One year I tried to read a book a day. When I would start falling behind the pace to do that I would read a couple of comic books so I could catch up. I read 366 books that year. I’ll never do that again. I read on deadlines. I’m usually reading 5 or 6 books at once. I have to finish reading the book before an interview so I’ll plot out the scheduling on it. Let’s say a book is 300 pages, I’ll plan on spending 5 hours reading it. I’m good for about a page a minute with comprehension. I’m not a speed reader. It took me 15 hours to read the new Ken Follett novel. It is 900+ pages. I suppose I read a couple hundred books a year. I’ve stopped counting.

What genre do you read purely for pleasure?

Crime fiction. I had never read a detective novel or a mystery before I started talking to authors. Now I’m hopelessly addicted to them. I suppose there are worse things.

What do you wish people appreciated more about books and authors?

Readers can get spoiled. Their favorite writer was putting out a book each year. Then they slowed down. Readers get impatient and exasperated, holy smokes it has been almost a month since James Patterson put out a book! I’m kidding about that. Patterson is a machine. But some writers have to take their time. Some of the best books took a long time to write. We live in the land of instant gratification but most authors simply cannot crank out books that quickly. Writing books can be a laborious process. I understand this better now because I am trying to write one.

We’ve all had a chance to reflect during the pandemic. What have you found to be positive during this time?

This pandemic has created superb opportunities for many of us to read more books. I’m hearing American readership has surged over these last six months. I read plenty before this happened. I am reading even more since. I have been tracking down a lot of books that are obscure, stuff that came out 75 years ago that has been mostly forgotten. This has been one unexpected benefit for me during this nerve-wracking period.

What inspires you about the Dayton area?

We have enthusiastic people here. Let me give you an example; I was meeting with the board for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Those were still early days, they were figuring out the process. We were at lunch. I stood up and spoke about how we needed to find a way to generate more buzz for what were at that point virtually unknown awards. I suggested that we needed to create another prize in addition to the ones they were planning for fiction and non-fiction. I thought we should have an award for lifetime achievement, and I knew of a deserving writer who could become the first recipient of that prize, Studs Terkel. There were about 20 people at the table. Without so much as a pause, they enthusiastically agreed and by acclamation, the thing was done. At the ceremony, I introduced Studs Terkel. He was my radio hero, nearing the end of his life, up on that stage with me. That sort of enthusiasm is a rare commodity.

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