UTRGV-produced radio show helps readers discover new books

BY Maria Elena Hernandez

If you ask the host of “Good Books Radio” for a summer reading list, it would be a very long list.

“I can’t think of a book that I wouldn’t recommend,” says Dr. John Cook, the show’s host, associate professor and chair of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley communications department.

“Start with LBJ’s ‘1968.’ That would be a good place to start.”

It also would be the subject of the program he had just recorded.

“Good Books Radio” has been airing on 88FM, the Rio Grande Valley’s Public Radio Station, for several years. Cook partnered with UTRGV communications professor Dr. W. F. Strong to produce the program, which is produced by the UTRGV video production team in the University Marketing and Communications department.

“If I couldn’t depend on them, I couldn’t do this show. They are really great,” he said. “They make you sound good. I’m very much appreciative of them.”

When he and Strong started “Good Books Radio,” they focused on interviews with non-fiction writers.

“And we provided a show a week, which is now aired two times on Thursday and twice on Sunday,” he said.

“I focus a lot on wellness, spirituality and history. Those are the primary topics I get interested in the most. Politics, sometimes.”

Cook said that while he wants the books to be interesting to his audience, they also have to interest him, since he reads the books. It’s something he learned that surprises some of the authors he interviews.

“Apparently, some people do not read them, but I can’t imagine doing a 30-minute interview on a book without having read it. So I always read them,” he said.

It really is critical for Cook to be well-informed, as there are plenty of people listening.

“Somebody will hear my voice and say, ‘Are you John Cook? I listen to your program,’” he said. “It’s flattering, just flattering. But the thing I like best about it is that it’s good for everyone to know what books are out there.”

The communications associate professor said he’s concerned that people aren’t reading books as much anymore.

“The other day, I was on Facebook and one of my graduates was asking for books to read. He said, ‘I’ve read two books since I graduated, which was more than I read in the previous five years.’ That concerns me, because I really believe that in order to have critical thinking skills, you have to read,” Cook said.

That isn’t a problem for Cook, though. With a stack of books in his office and an inbox full of requests for interviews, there is a wealth of material for “Good Books Radio” to explore.

“I really enjoy it,” Cook said with a smile. “I hope to continue this as long as I live.”