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All I Did Was Ask: Conversations with Writers, Actors Musicians, and Artists Hardcover – September 8, 2004

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All I Did Was Ask: Conversations with Writers, Actors Musicians, and Artists + Writers Speak: Fresh Air with Terry Gross
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; New title edition (September 8, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401300103
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401300104
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #655,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Conducting a good interview requires exhaustive research, good timing, the ability to steer the interview back on course when it meanders, a knack for close listening and thinking about the next question, flexibility and editing skills. Gross, the polite and generous host of NPR's Fresh Air, is a pro, and here she collects some of her favorite interviews with people in the arts. The result is a wide-ranging and entertaining look into the creative process. With a few exceptions, the interviews are from the show's national broadcast debut year in 1987, but they never seem dated, as many of the guests are still active or well known, and the topics are timeless. Whether she's asking Johnny Cash about the difference between a singer and a song stylist, discussing the role of class in British actor Michael Caine's life or examining the eternal intricacies of the human face with Chuck Close, Gross remains sensitive, engaged and informed. The two notable exceptions are her interviews with cable opinion-slinger Bill O'Reilly and Kiss front man Gene Simmons, whose pugnacity and sexism, respectively, unseat the usually collected host and challenge her to summon interview skills she rarely exercises. Overall, however, this is an often funny and completely fascinating anthology.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In the first print collection of her justifiably famous interviews, Gross, host of the exceedingly popular National Public Radio interview program Fresh Air, admits to being nervous before every recording session. She also reveals the enormous amount of prep work involved. Writing with the directness and insight that make her such a magnet for listeners, Gross takes readers behind the scenes of her Philadelphia-based Peabody Award-winning program. She has wisely chosen to focus strictly on people in the arts, presenting 39 judiciously selected interviews that span the last two decades, conversations that, no matter the date, are, indeed, fresh, probing, and compelling. The book will prove newly revelatory to listeners (radio broadcasts are, after all, ephemeral), and engage everyone interested in how artists view their lives. Gross is at once extremely well informed and darn near guileless in her willingness to pose personal questions. She asks Chris Rock, for instance, if being skinny influenced his work (absolutely), gets Sonny Rollins to talk about drugs, and elicits many reminiscences about loving mothers. Wonderfully eclectic, she extracts intriguing disclosures from Johnny Cash, Grandmaster Flash, Nick Hornby, Jodie Foster, James Baldwin, John Updike, painters Chuck Close and Frank Stella, thoughtful Divine, and Kiss's absurdly crass Gene Simmons. It's a boon to have these priceless exchanges preserved in print, along with Gross' candid commentary. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

And some of the vignettes are just plain fun.
Susan Price
Nonetheless, this is quite a fun read and highly recommended for fans of Gross.
Ed Uyeshima
Terry Gross has one of the best interview programs on radio called Fresh Air.
W. Terry Whalin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

75 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on September 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Terry Gross first began interviewing celebrities in the arts world on National Public Radio station WHYY in Philadelphia in 1975. As the queen of research and often surprising personal questions, Gross interviews her guests with a candor and appreciation of their art that surpasses that of most hosts. She has hosted the hit NPR interview show "Fresh Air" for nearly 30 years.

Her stock in trade is to mine surprising insights from her guests. Often, the more well known the artist is, the more gracious he or she is in an interview. Gross is very sensitive to their feelings and asks them if there are subjects that are off-limits. Sometimes, however, a guest will push her buttons and she takes her gloves off. She includes a couple of interviews where the guest is so totally obnoxious that the verbal blows begin to fall. But these instances are rare indeed, and regular listeners to her show usually are entertained and charmed by the genuine camaraderie that prevails.

The broadcasts range from 1988 through 2004, with such notables as Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Dustin Hoffman, Jodie Foster and John Updike, to the late Divine, Mario Puzo, Johnny Cash, and James Baldwin. Gross opens each excerpt from the selected interviews in the book --- there are 39 in all --- with personal remarks about the occasion. She has grouped some interviews together, such as the various people involved in the making of the movie Taxi Driver.

Nick Cage describes eating a cockroach live in an early vampire movie called Vampire's Kiss, and then discusses his views on death and dying.
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50 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Mark Goulston on September 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
ALL I DID WAS ASK is one of those satisfying books that tells you "everything you wanted to ask about these people, but didn't know what to ask"

I've heard it said that intelligence shows itself better in questions than in answers. It is also a rare quality to hear questions that are immediately so obvious and so much what you would like to know, but would have never thought to ask on your own. Terry Gross has both these qualities in spades, It's no accident that she has been on the air for so long; it's because she asks the questions that we all wish we were thoughtful and intelligent enough to come up with. Get this book to satisfy your curiosity about these people and them emulate Terry in the questions you ask and you, too, will find yourself demonstrating your intelligence.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By radio lover in new jersey on August 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I listen to Fresh Air as much as I can, and I completely disagree with the other reviewer. I believe Terry Gross is the best interviewer out there--she is brash, smart, articulate, interesting, well-read and well-informed, and obviously has both a great heart and also loves even the guests she may not agree with. In her book--all of that comes through. You can learn so much from listening to Terry's show, or from reading this unexpectedly fresh, original and insightful book. And I also loved her subjects!
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on October 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
It's fascinating to listen to interviews on the radio, and Fresh Air is among the very best. But how often I've asked myself, now what did he say right there. But the fleeting moment had passed, and even by asking I've missed the next things that was said. Thank God for the printed word that lasts forever and sits on the shelf to be reviewed as needed. ==Here are some three dozen transcripts of interviews. Some of which you undoubtedly missed. Some of which are artfully edited from multiple broadcasts. The editing though was carefully done to not change the tone of the interview, nor does it appear that Ms. Gross has taken the opportunity to make herself look better. ==As you would expect, some of the interviews are more interesting to me than others. You may of course, not find the same ones of interest. But if you like the show, you will like the book, basically a transcript of the interviews
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Ed Uyeshima HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on December 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
With the plethora of bad talk shows on the air (Ellen and Letterman excepted), I happen to think Terry Gross stands out as one of the best interviewers around. I tune into NPR just to listen to her Fresh Air program every chance I get in the evenings, which to be honest, is not very often. That's why it's a particular joy that she has decided to transcribe verbatim 39 of her favorite interviews in this book. Even though she excludes political figures and consequently some of her most cutting comments, she includes some intriguing people from the arts world as she culls from broadcasts going back to 1988. The result is a series of fascinating insights into celebrities who may not have struck you as all that interesting in the first place.

What really shines through these conversations is the level of preparation that Gross brings to bear on each interview. Her excellent questions are obviously the fruit of her tenacious research, and her extensive broadcast experience shows how she is prepared for any situation no matter how potentially sweat-inducing. For example, she makes mincemeat of KISS bassist Gene Simmons in spite of her best efforts to deflect the verbal sparring he was intent on displaying mainly at her expense. But others come off quite well. Jodie Foster is obviously sharp and open about the repercussions of John Hinckley's attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, since he was supposedly obsessed with her performance in "Taxi Driver". Dustin Hoffman is surprisingly introspective, as are Nicolas Cage and even the eccentric Dennis Hopper. My favorite piece is with pulp novelist Mickey Spillane, who reveals how he was beaten up constantly as a child for the Buster Brown pageboy haircut his mother insisted on giving him.
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