I saw Roger Rosenblatt on Charlie Rose last night. I knew I recognized the name and the voice - he's an essayist who used to deliver thought-pieces at the end of the Newshour with Jim Lehrer, a program I was raised on. He was promoting his recently-released novel, and I was struck by how funny, how dead-pan and how self-deprecating he was. He was also especially insightful regarding the difference in composing an essay (a one-off, self-encapsulated, sometimes factually-based expression of opinion) from writing a novel (a work of fiction that follows a plot and develops characters, but which often bears no resemblance to real-life events and is not expected to).
But beyond that, I was surprised by his capacity for genre-hopping as a writer simply on a whim. He said he had written several plays, even written and starred in his own one-man show. "Lapham Rising" is his first novel, and he said he started it because he'd accomplished everything he could within the genre of the essay. He mentioned off-hand that a person could name 20 great novelists or 20 great playwrights or 20 great poets, but a list of great essayists would likely number about four.
I asked my mom, a far more attentive watcher of the Newshour than I was during my upbringing, what Rosenblatt's essays were about. She said pretty much anything, anything that caught his eye or his attention. And I thought, how wonderful, to be paid to do something like that. I don't know if I'll read Rosenblatt's novel, but I might check out a collection of his essays.
Since high school, I've really enjoyed Charlie Rose - the range of guests he has, his insightful questions, the way he can rein in even a large panel of very opinionated people (the discussions and predictions of the Oscars and Grammys particularly come to mind). Prior to Rosenblatt's appearance last night, he interviewed Congressman Rahm Emanuel live and former President Clinton by phone. They talked about politics, naturally, but Emanuel had a book ("The Plan" - something like "A Five-Point Vision for a Better Tomorrow") to promote, and Clinton had insights to offer about Democratic strategy and world efforts to combat AIDS. Then Charlie Rose switched gears and tackled cultural issues, materialism, humor and literary criticism with Rosenblatt.
Just recently, ESPN hired someone to review the network's interview strategies. I heard the guy interviewed, and he criticized, among others, Larry King and Barbara Walters for their poor strategies. I can't recall that he singled out any current newspeople for their work, but I think Charlie Rose offers a strong example of solid, insightful and well-articulated interview tactics.