News from our partners at the PA Cable Network (PCN) as they prepare to celebrate their 800th PA Book! Show airs Sunday, March 11 at 7 p.m.
Celebrating 800 Episodes of PA Books - For 2018, 18 Favorites
Written by Brian Lockman, PCN’s CEO & President
Hosting PA Books for the past 20 years has been more of a hobby than a job. It has offered me the privilege of spending an hour with hundreds of fascinating people who have written about Pennsylvania. And I hope it has enabled viewers learn something about their home state and, maybe, helped authors sell a few books.
Whittling more than 20 years of PA Books down to my 18 favorites was a very difficult thing to do. It would have been easier to pick my favorite 100, but here goes in no particular order.
1 – John Updike, author of “Buchanan Dying”
After many years of reading his novels, and after 10 years of requesting an interview, I was finally able to sit down with this literary legend. Very few writers have tackled James Buchanan as a subject, but he wrote both a book and a play about Pennsylvania’s only president. Updike was charming, humble, and fascinating. I was in awe.
2 – Dick Boak, author of “Martin Guitar Masterpieces”
Some of the finest guitars in the world, including the ones my wife and I play, are made by C.F. Martin & Company in Nazareth, PA. Dick Boak was director of artist relations there, so he would work with Neil Young, Paul Simon and the like to design guitars to their specifications. After the show, he let me play a guitar owned by Eric Clapton. It had been sent to Martin for some repair work. That made my daughters think they had the coolest dad in the world.
3 – John Grogan, author of “Marley and Me”
This book spent three years on the New York Times best-seller list and was made into a hit movie. I interviewed him when the book first came out. PA Books cannot claim all the credit for the book’s success, but it did not show up on the best-seller charts until after its appearance on PA Books so it does make you wonder.
4 – Lisa Scottoline, author of “Mistaken Identity”
It’s hard to interview writers of fiction, because you really cannot talk very much about the plot, so there is the danger of running out of things to talk about. No problem with Lisa Scottoline. She is so enthusiastic and entertaining that she has been a guest six times.
5 – M.K. Asante, author of “Buck”
This was the first book that ever arrived with its own promotional music video, so the prospect of interviewing him was intriguing. Asante, still in his 30’s, grew up in Philadelphia and is a tenured professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore. He is funny, fascinating, and inspiring. We could have kept talking for hours.
6 – David McCullough, author of “1776”
Most of George Washington’s career took place in Pennsylvania, and I never get tired of reading about him. Plus, you should never pass up an opportunity to interview David McCullough. He was not in his best voice that day because he had a cold, but he was still David McCullough. Even with a cold…what a voice.
7 – Amy Strauss, author of “Pennsylvania Scrapple”
I had to include this book on the list because, whenever I am out with my family and order scrapple, they give me looks of revulsion. This book sets the record straight. The author was animated, fun to talk with, and a relentless supported of this most misunderstood food.
8 – Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker, authors of “Busted”
These two women won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for a series they did for the Philadelphia Daily News on police corruption. It took amazing courage for them to work on this story. Their chemistry was a treat to behold. They were enthusiastic, funny, and serious at the same time.
9 – George Anastasia, author of “Mob Files”
George has been on the program four times. He covered organized crime for the Philadelphia Inquirer. If you want to hire an actor to play a reporter covering the mob, George is straight out of central casting.
10 – Jimmy Heath, author of “I Walked With Giants”
This legendary jazz musician and Philadelphia native was 90 years old and still an active
performer when I interviewed him. He was charming, funny, and full of fascinating stories.
11 – John Eisenhower, author of “General Ike”
PCN has claimed Dwight Eisenhower as a Pennsylvanian, since the only home he ever owned was in Gettysburg. The president’s son, himself a general, told great stories, cussed like a soldier, and when he smiled, was the spitting image of his dad. I interviewed him at his home in Maryland, and when the interview was over, his wife served lunch to the whole PCN crew.
12 – William Hogeland, author of “Declaration”
This book painted a picture of Philadelphia in 1776 that made it sound like Teheran in 1979, with Samuel Adams playing the role of the Ayatolla. The American Revolution was not neat or pretty, and this book did the best job I’ve found in describing the chaos that came with the rebellion.
13 – Diane McKinney-Whetstone, author of “Lazaretto”
I said earlier how difficult it is to interview writers of fiction, but Diane was on the program
three times. She taught writing at the University of Pennsylvania and gave great insights into the challenges of the writing craft.
14 – Cooper Wingert, author of “The Confederate Approach on Harrisburg”
Cooper was 16 years old when I interviewed him. Today he is a 20-year- old Dickinson College student who has ten books to his credit. At 16, he sounded as knowledgeable and well-spoken as any historian I have interviewed. His book caused me to view the Harrisburg area and its role in the Civil War in an entirely new way.
15 – Abdullah Muhammed, author of “Africans in New Sweden”
The town where I grew up was part of the colony of New Sweden, so I find the subject to be fascinating. The Swedes were here before the English and before William Penn, and yet almost no one writes about it. Abdullah is a charming and engaging re-enactor of a historical era that deserves to be better remembered.
16 – Audrey Lewis and Christine Podmaniczky, authors of “Andrew Wyeth: A Retrospective”
We recorded this interview in Andrew Wyeth’s actual studio in Chadds’ Ford. Besides being a very entertaining interview, it was great fun looking around at the easels, palettes, brushes, and memorabilia that are untouched since the famous painter worked in that room.
17 – William Woys Weaver, author of “As American As Shoo-Fly Pie”
This was a delightful discussion of sauerkraut, sausages, desserts, and other Pennsylvania Dutch treats. Weaver is a strong supporter of this cuisine and is always trying to incorporate it into the world of fine dining.
18 – Walt Koken, author of “Fire on the Mountain”
I wanted book show number 800 to feature someone special. My wife and I became fans of Walt and the Highwoods Stringband in the 1970’s. We, and many others like us, play Old Time Southern Appalachian fiddle tunes today because of the inspiration we got from that band. This is a music that has very little commercial value, but among people who play it, Walt is a legend.
The 800th episode of PA Books featuring Author and Musician Walt Koken will air on PCN and the PCN Select Sunday, March 11, at 7 p.m.
How to watch PA Books
Watch PCN (Pennsylvania Cable Network) and stream on demand in HD on your favorite mobile device, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku using the PCN Select app. Subscribe to PCN Select at pcntv.com.
PCN (Pennsylvania Cable Network) is a statewide, non-profit television network responsive to the needs and interests of Pennsylvania and its people. PCN provides unedited coverage of politics and policy, unique accounts of history and culture, and a variety of sports championships and events from the state of Pennsylvania. Watch PCN on cable and stream on demand using PCN Select. Go to pcntv.com for the schedule and details.