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Reading With Robin Kall

Robin Kall on life after radio and turning Rhode Islanders into book lovers

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Robin Kall is accustomed to dealing with a particular type of emergency. The plane is about to start boarding when a hapless traveller has only just realized that she’s forgotten a crucial component of her beach vacation: a good book. This means trouble – she’s too hurried to pick through the airport bookseller on her own, and she needs a great read. The solution? Call Robin.

“I get S.O.S calls all the time” says Robin. As the woman behind WHJJ’s enormously popular talk radio show, Reading With Robin, she’s become a booklover’s guru – what her daughter calls the “Fairy Bookmother.” She sits at a corner table of Felicia’s Café in East Greenwich. A stack of five books on her left, a raspberry iced tea on her right and a laptop encased in hot pink plastic with her smartphone on top. Picking up the phone, she holds it up and mimes video chatting with the friend in need at the airport bookstore. “Wait, wait, I can’t see it! Okay – that looks the latest Jane Green. It’s great. Pick that.”

Originally from Long Island, Robin moved here with her husband in 1985. While her two children - one boy and one girl - were growing up, Robin participated in school book
fairs and was involved in planning events at the Providence Public Library. Her career in radio started as a frequent caller to the John Depetro show. She got so popular as a caller that WHJJ asked her to come in as a producer on Saturday mornings, and a little less than a year later she pitched her own show. “I thought, what subject could I speak to passionately as books?” She got the 7–8am Saturday morning slot, and Reading With Robin was born.

Books may seem like an unlikely theme for a radio talk show. Listen to a few of Robin’s interviews, and the show’s popularity quickly makes sense. She starts with books that she loves, and jumps straight to the authors. Robin doesn’t pay heed to classic lit crit questions about theme or style. “I can’t stand those questions,” says Robin. “I like to just chat. I like just this freeform.” Instead, she connects to the authors through a shared love of books and reading – authors are without exception book people, after all. “If I have them on the phone, I’m gonna be like ‘So when do you write...’ No! I’m going to be like, what are you doing? What did you just bake?” On Reading With Robin, books are the catalysts for connection, leading readers to connect with authors and with each other.

What started as a book-themed talk show airing at 7am Saturday mornings has grown into a year-round calendar filled with readings, charity functions, interviews and events across Rhode Island and the East Coast. “I feel like I sort of created this book world in Rhode Island,” says Robin. She’s not overestimating her literary clout. Reading With Robin aired for over ten years, starting in 2002. Along with the events and readings she’s organized, Robin has connected thousands of Rhode Islanders to bestselling authors. She acts as a middle-woman – she connects authors with their fans, navigating the space between the books that she loves and the people who write them.

In person, Robin exudes verve and charm. Her words tumble out on top of each other; sentences overlap, and the conversation ricochets between personal anecdotes, book recommendations and passionate praise for her favorite authors, many of whom have become her personal friends after interviewing with her or attending an event she organized. In the space of ten minutes, she tosses off the names of over 15 authors and their most recent or upcoming titles. They include Sarah McCoy (The Baker’s Daughter), Ann Hood (The Obituary Writer), Christina Hague (Come To The Edge), Jennifer Weiner (All Fall Down), Jodie Picoult (Leaving Time) and Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being A Wallflower). Out of context, the names read like a roundup of some of today’s rockstar authors and bestselling titles; from Robin’s perspective, they are friends and acquaintances with their own eccentricities, charms and faults.

Long before her radio show, Robin was reaching out to authors whose books she admired. She began an email correspondence with Jodie Picoult in 1997; she liked Jodie’s first novels and found out that the author was a fellow Long Islander. “In the subject line I wrote, ‘West Rules East Sucks,’ because that’s a very Long Island thing to do,” she recounts. While writing My Sister’s Keeper, which is set in Providence, Jodie would consult with Robin about Rhode Island via AOL Instant Message. The book and the author are practically the same thing – if she likes the book, she likes the author, and she wants to chat. When Robin and her daughter went to Los Angeles on vacation, they took the opportunity to grab a pancake breakfast with Stephen Chbosky – “I love you, Robin, even though I’ve only met you once,” he says in a video posted on her website.

Although Reading With Robin is no longer on the air, she continues to post audio interviews on her website, along with blog posts (called “Musings”), an events calendar and short reviews written by friends and fans. Readers can find her on Twitter, where she has over 1,000 followers, and on her active Facebook page. She often promotes events and organizes meet-ups for any interested booklovers online. “I also started a sorority in college,” she says. “I’m like a party planner.” Other posts consist of shout-outs to authors and fans, praise for books she likes and snapshots of her daily life, all interspersed with pictures of her corgi. Robin also started her own charity, the Love, Carol foundation, honoring her mother’s memory and supporting breast cancer research. Proceeds from her events benefit the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.

Robin started two local book clubs that are still going strong – the Monday Night Bookclub, which meets once per month in the Providence area, and the Temple Bookclub, a synagogue-based club. Robin herself doesn’t regularly attend – she has too much to read already – although she does stop by if the club is reading something she loves. In some ways, she belongs to a book club of one. She reads the books she loves, and then sings their praises. She says that she isn’t interested in criticizing or reviewing; she’d rather spend that time reading the next book. She calls the books she reads “contemporary fiction,” and fits them under the umbrella of the Reading With Robin brand. This brand of books isn’t for everyone, and Robin doesn’t mind – as in every aspect of her career, she goes where her passion for reading takes her.

This fall, booklovers can find Robin at An Evening With Authors on October 8, featuring Dani Shapiro, John Searles and Susie Jane Gilman, or the Hood on the Hill event, celebrating author Ann Hood and the release of her latest novel, An Italian Wife, on October 25. Her website, Twitter and Facebook are continuously updated with blog posts and book talk. Robin is part radio personality, the head of a charity, an events planner and a personal shopper; all of her identities are tied together by her love of reading. It seems like the readers love her back.