Minnesota Public Radio’s Kerri Miller has her dream job. Miller is host of “MPR News with Kerri Miller,” which airs from 9 – 11 a.m. When she joined MPR in 2004, along with it came “Talking Volumes” – a series of live author interviews at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. She also leads Kerri Miller’s Book Circle.
It’s a perfect fit for the book lover and former KARE 11 television reporter.
“This is the job that everything’s been leading up to because it combines all the skills that I had built up through my journalism career and then the passion that I have for reading,” she says.
Yet the reality of her job is that it is, in fact, work.
Take, for example, the fact that she has to read. A lot. Miller thoroughly prepares before she interviews someone on the air or onstage. When she talked to us for this interview, she had a dozen books to read in three weeks. This is not light reading or skimming, either; Miller reads for comprehension, taking notes and marking stand-out sections. That takes some of the pleasure out of it.
“I know that there’s value in close reading, absolutely there’s always value in that kind of preparation,” she says. “But the balance is me going, ‘Just get through it, get through it, read it, get through it.'” People who love to read, read “for the pleasure and the knowledge. I don’t want to lose that,” she adds.
“Talking Volumes” has its own challenges and pressures. Miller puts her interviewing skills to the test, adjusting to each author on the fly. Some are extremely nervous and need to be put at ease. Others just need an opening.
Last fall, she interviewed Cassandra Clare and Holly Black, two authors of young adult (YA) fiction who between them have sold almost 40 million books.
“They’re two powerhouse women. They’re also really close friends, and they write together,” Miller says. “It turned out to be this great night about the elevation and the value of female friendship.”
Incidentally, the YA genre is not one that Miller reads regularly, but she sees value in it. The classic literature taught in schools likely can’t inspire young people to read like a YA novel can. Even so, she says, “it’s kind of a brave thing to be a teen who loves books.”
She knows because she was one.
Student of literature
Miller’s mother was a “binge reader” who was determined to make Miller and her brother into readers.
Miller remembers how when she was about 11, her mother took her to the small public library near their home in Bemus Point, N.Y., and told the librarian, “She can take anything and any amount of books that she wants out of the library.” It was a transformative experience, she says, being turned loose in the library.
She went on to major in English literature at St. Bonaventure University, learning the comprehension and critical-thinking skills that benefit her today.
“I don’t fear literature,” she says. “I never open a book and think, ‘I won’t be able to figure this out or these ideas are beyond me.’ And whether people will admit it or not, I think a lot of people experience that.”
She doesn’t spend all her time dissecting James Joyce and William Faulkner (whom she hates). “The thing that gets me up in the morning is really good fiction,” which may be a mystery or a gothic romance, she says.
Her all-time favorite novel is Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre.” Some of her favorite women authors are Isabel Allende; Siri Hustvedt, who grew up in Minnesota; and Marilynne Robinson and Jane Smiley, both of Iowa.
But bring up Louise Erdrich, and Miller starts gushing.
“I admire everything about her,” Miller says. “Louise is just – everything. Not to sound like a complete fan girl, but I’d say if there’s kind of an iconic Minnesota writer for me, she’s it. … She’s one of the few writers, too, that I get nervous about interviewing. What’s weird about this is, I feel like we have a really great rapport, but I don’t want to be disappointing to her.”
With 10 years of “Talking Volumes” under her belt, Miller shouldn’t worry. But she should get going on those 12 books.
Kerri Miller’s short list of favorite books by women authors:
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Connecting with other readers MPR is providing more ways for the reading community to come together. A new program for bibliophiles will feature live events this spring. Find the schedule online at www.mpr.org under “Events.”
Talking Volumes: mprnews.org/arts/books