Summer Reading Series – Mitch Jeserich

Broadcasting with Books

Mitch Jeserich has one small bookshelf at home, “but you should see my bookshelf in the office. It’s a problem.”

Mitch is a journalist and the producer of Letters and Politics, a program that looks at political issues within their historical context. A desire for this level of understanding means that Mitch has to read a lot of books. And with so much information to take in, he’s hardly able to get through the entire book.

“I understand that I am the representative of the listener. But I don’t [want to] go in unprepared. Rarely do I read the entire book, but I definitely take a couple of days, at least 4-5 hours.”

The situation hardly changes for his personal reading because he is also reading four to five books at a time. “It takes years!”

Whether it’s for work or pleasure, Mitch sees reading as a journey to learning about and discovering the world. He enjoys that his show may give people the opportunity to learn or be inspired to take the initiative to be self-taught.

“I got tired of doing shows on the latest breaking news and having those shows not have any significance a week or month later. I wanted to do something more substantial other than what people are doing right this second. I’ve always liked history, knowledge, the intellectual world…I think that, in journalism, we leave history out of the story. Understanding what these things mean and the background…it’s not just newsy, it’s education.”

The Inspiring Spirit of Books

Jeserich started reading much like the rest of us; through parenting and public education. He grew up with a love for public broadcasting which would later push him to journalism. He recalls listening to John Hockenberry on NPR; “I just loved his adventure so much. It definitely endeared me towards broadcasting.” Later, Mitch would be very aware of the KPFA shutdown in 1999. After the station got back up, they offered a journalism training program. “I got into the program and I knew right from the beginning that it was for me.”

Mitch was living in Washington DC as a correspondent during Obama’s administration, which would inspire the pilot program Letters from Washington. While thinking of a name for his new show, he recalled an Alastair Cook program on BBC Radio 4; Letter from America, a 15-minute radio series on topical issues in America.

Mitch wanted to change the name of the show when he returned to the San Francisco Bay Area. “…I felt like it wasn’t very accurate to call it that… [it] sounded too activist-y to me.” He remembered a famous bookstore in DC called “Politics and Prose.” Not wanting to steal the name, he decided to go with Letters and Politics.

What Mitch is Reading Now

The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914 by Richard Evans. “It’s about the history of Europe from post Napoleon and through the rest of the 19th century and the formation of modern day states.”

For a taste of 20th century French literature, Marcel Proust and his work, In Search of Lost Time – previously translated as Remembrance of Things Past.

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. Mitch finds kinship with the protagonist, who is also a journalist. “…it’s amazing how many things Sinclair Lewis predicts for the future. It’s not supposed to be, but still, some of the things he nails [on the head].”

With an upcoming trip to Paris, Munich, and Vienna, Mitch has also been reading about European history. “When I travel I want to make it an educational tour.”

Like any good book worm, the to-read wish list never actually ends. “I really [want to] read Edward Gibbons’ The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Classic English literature from the 18th century. [It’s] considered an influence of the English language. Almost 100 years ago it was read in schools; today no one knows what it is.”

War in Peace and The Histories of Herodotus also grace Mitch’s wish list. “I got about 70 pages into [The Histories], but then I got distracted.”

Aside from wanting to read the classics, Mitch has been making a concerted effort to read more conservative news and female authors.

“It’s good to know what other people are saying to be truly informed and to force myself to understand where they’re coming from. Otherwise there’s a lack of entertaining and challenging ideas.”

What if you’re someone who wants to read books outside of your world view, but don’t know where to start? Mitch suggests looking at the author of your books. If you notice that an overwhelming majority are of one particular gender or race, go out and be intentional about who you read next.

Odds and Ends

Mitch doesn’t find reading for work stressful, but reading for enjoyment isn’t a walk in the park. “I find reading work. I actually find it work. But also relaxing. Maybe I’m a Calvinist in this way. I mostly read for work, for self-improvement, and I enjoy that!”

Mitch almost got away with thinking he has no guilty pleasure reads, but that quickly changed; books about sports, specifically baseball. He reads everything from statistical game analysis to history.

On the subject of book to movie translations, Mitch recalls Spike Lee’s 1992 film, Malcom X. “A friend and I decided to read the autobiography first, I’d rather read the book before the movie. I thought the movie was great. Obviously I thought the book was great, but it was a great experience.”

But movies also have the power to inspire someone to learn more about a book or author. Il Postino: The Postman, is a 1994 Italian film directed by Michael Radford. It tells a fictional story of the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda.

“I think books are great little empathy machines, in the sense that you and the person who wrote the book get to experience the shared reality. It helps you see outside your own head for a moment.”

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