Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Fame and Fortune (Part 2)

Mark Twain started out -- well, if you read Roughing It, you'll learn that he started out as a lot of things. But as a writer, he started out working for a local newspaper that I gather was a lot like a modern metro weekly tabloid: one-half advertising, one-eighth news, and the rest a spicy melange of rumor, gossip, scandal, and opinion. From there he graduated to travel writing and foreign correspondence (Innocents Abroad), and while he was writing and selling short stories, which was great for his reputation, the place he was really making his living was on the lecture circuit. If you were to make an algorithm of Twain's life, it would be:

1. make some money on a book
2. blow it all on a bad investment
3. go back out on the lecture circuit, make gobs of money to cover his losses, and buy the time to write the next book
4. repeat

It's an interesting synergism. The lectures drove sales of the books; the books in turn expanded the audience for the lectures. Sadly, the lecture tour was a 19th century phenomenon and I doubt we will ever see its likes again. As far as I can tell a Twain lecture was a combination of one-man stage show (if you haven't seen Hal Holbrook in Mark Twain Tonight!, you really should find a copy and watch it), two-hour standup comedy routine, and socio/political monologue.

I keep casting about for a contemporary analogue, and the closest I can come is talk radio. But even Twain didn't have to come up with a different two-hour show five days a week! And somehow, I find it hard to believe that 60 years from now, some well-respected actor is going to be touring with "Rush Limbaugh Tonight!"

So here's today's question. I've read, or at least attempted to read, books by many of our better-known radio talk shows hosts, and my current theory is that the ability to host a successful radio talk show requires a certain je ne sais quoi that is incompatible with good writing. Does anyone here know of a good book written by someone who is first and foremost a radio personality?