Best of ‘Nancy’s Bookshelf’
Transcribed interviews with 31 fascinating authors from popular local radio show
Since 2007, Nancy Wiegman has hosted a weekly half-hour show on Northstate Public Radio called Nancy’s Bookshelf, during which she converses with local, regional and, in some cases, nationally known writers. She’s done more than 250 interviews and in the process gained a reputation as a skillful, well-prepared host.
The actual interviews come only after Nancy has located and booked the writers, done background research and read the books, sometimes more than once. She devotes as much time to this unpaid volunteer effort as she does to her day job as coordinator of the yoga program and yoga instructor at Chico Sports Club.
Nobody knows how hard she works better than her husband, Neal Wiegman, who’s a retired college Spanish instructor and himself the author of four books, including a historical novel (Walking the Way: A Medieval Quest), as well as an occasional contributor to the CN&R. He’s listened to all of her interviews and, naturally, greatly appreciates their quality. That’s one of the reasons why he spent “at least two years” transcribing 31 of the best ones and compiling them into a book titled Nancy’s Bookshelf: Conversations with Writers. It was a grueling task, he said, but he’s pleased with the result.
“I wanted to honor Nancy as a radio host,” he explained during a recent interview at the couple’s home in west Chico. He said he also wanted to create something KCHO and KFPR, the two Northstate Public Radio stations, could use as a pledge-drive gift to entice donors.
He’s issuing the book through CreateSpace, the self-publishing, print-on-demand branch of Amazon.com. If that suggests vanity project, so be it: I can testify that the book is worthy on its merits. I read it avidly, moving from one interview to the next, each an intelligent, probing conversation.
And there are some big hitters here: NPR’s Scott Simon; the great African-American writer Maya Angelou; the Los Angeles Times’ Steve Lopez, author of The Soloist; and comedian Paula Poundstone, who gave what is easily the funniest interview in the bunch. But it’s also a treat to discover that some local authors, such as Buddhist teacher Lin Jensen, historian Laird Easton, poet Troy Jollimore and neurosurgeon Dr. Jeffrey Lobosky, are just as engaging, articulate and passionate about their work as their more famous counterparts.
As much as Nancy prepares for her shows, she knows that every interviewee is different. Some, like Simon, make it easy for her by giving concise but vivid answers to her questions, and the half-hour goes by in a flash. Others freeze up or give such truncated responses that the conversation never quite gets going, and the half-hour seems like eternity—none of those made it into the book.
When she began the show six years ago, she quickly exhausted the writers she knew and had to dig around to find others. Friends made suggestions, names popped up in local newspapers, and the university was a good source, especially for visiting writers with national prominence. One of them was Angelou, who just days before her interview received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Barack Obama.
Now, with the advent of inexpensive self-publishing, authors and books are coming out of the woodwork, and Wiegman is booked well into the future.
She’s not judgmental about the quality of the books, at least not on air. “Sometimes the book itself is not very interesting, but the author is,” she said, and the interview turns out well.
Despite the work involved, Wiegman has no intention of quitting the show. She’s become friends with a number of the writers, and besides, she said, “there’s always some book that comes along that I want to read.”