Books on television? Is that an oxymoron? Apparently not in Washington, where C-SPAN has devoted weekends to literary matters and where book clubs and book-buying are big.
In September, WHUT began "The Reading Club," a half-hour, 13-week series for PBS hosted by Carol Martin, former anchor for WCBS in New York.
This week, book-club moms and their daughters will talk with her about "Mother and Daughter's Book Club," Shireen Dodson's advice on establishing such groups and what to read.
Martin and her daughter, now 19 and a student at the University of Virginia, never had such a club. "I wish I had had a group of women around me to do that -- I wish I'd had that experience," she said.
Martin said she and her guests didn't like every book they discussed or share similar views -- "It's not just a valentine."
She wasn't fond of Lawrence Otis Graham's "Our Kind of People" or Sister Souljah's "The Coldest Winter Ever," but liked Edwidge Danticat's "The Farming of Bones" and Pearl Cleage's "What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day."
"The Reading Club," airing Tuesdays at 8 and repeating Sundays at noon on Channel 32, is a joint project of Howard, Bryant Gumbel's Dunbar Productions and CBS's Eyemark Entertainment.
Executive producer Allison J. Davis chose chat groups from Washington-area women and Howard University students.
"They represent a diversity of opinions because many of them aren't Washington-born," she said. "These women have lived or are from so many different places. The students added honesty -- and moments you won't hear on network talk shows."
Davis, a 1971 graduate of Silver Spring's Springbrook High School and a television veteran of 25 years, said she chose the books from those being read by clubs around the country.
But like Martin, she'd never participated in one.
"It seemed like all my friends were in reading clubs," she said. "I found it was about socializing, about intimacy, about revealing oneself, about finding nuggets in these pieces of writing and discussing them in an intelligent kind of way."
Davis said when Gumbel founded Dunbar Productions in 1997, hiring her as senior vice president, creative, and David Hoffman as vice president and director of production, he said he wanted to continue his relationship with historically black colleges. WHUT, launched in 1980, is the only black-owned and operated non-commercial station of the country's 346 public television stations, and is a training center for Howard telecommunications students.
So Davis and Hoffman turned "The Reading Club" into a laboratory, using students alongside professional talent. Gumbel talked with the students; lighting director Greg Williams, who also works for King World, gave a seminar; David Weller, whose set uses furniture donated by Ikea, designs sets for "Live With Regis & Kathie Lee."
"The Reading Club" also created a Web site -- www.thereadingclub.com -- that offers the first chapter of a book, discussions with authors, lists of new books and a link to buy books online. The author of next week's book, "Project Girl," is Janet McDonald, who plans to chat with readers on-line.
Meanwhile, Davis said, members of book clubs elsewhere have written, hoping to appear on the show. And because so many show-business people also want to appear, she's considering a one-hour show featuring celebrities and their favorite books.
She's also learning that many viewers have come to "The Reading Club" by simple channel-surfing.
"We're finding out that African Americans, minority folks, are looking for stuff they can put their arms around," she said. "They're not going to look at traditional networks. I think [television] folks are starting to realize that we can establish these small little communities, and that not only is it good business but it's also good television."
Martin's husband, Joe Terry, directs "Oprah Winfrey," a talk show famous for its book list. Davis credits Winfrey with having "sparked reading, and giving rise to so many voices. I don't think there will ever be enough people giving rise to voices."
Davis, a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists, said she often asks aspiring journalists what book they've read recently.
"I tell them, in order to have a voice, you have to read. You have to hear a voice, and you can't hear one unless you read. And you've got to read in order to write."