Into it: Bob Vila

Bob Vila, home-improvement guru, what are you ...

... Reading?

I just read a terrific book about Sicily, On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal, by Mary Taylor Simeti. I love to read travel books and this is one I read after having been to Sicily. She's a wonderful writer with a great understanding and command of mythology and history. It's one of those books where you savor the prose as you're going through it. Before I read that book, I read a Ken Follett book called Pillars of the Earth. It's about a builder in the 12th century, in England. It's about the life of people subjugated by the sheriffs and nobles and knights, and the life of a man who is essentially a stonemason and a builder. Very, very entertaining book and, obviously, on a subject matter that's dear to me. The other one I read by Ken Follett a couple of months ago was called A Dangerous Fortune. It's set in London in the 1860s and it's about a character who becomes a great banker and creates a great fortune. They are not typical of what you think [Follet] writes. It's a very good book to enjoy when you have a lot of time, like when you're in an airplane. There's another book I read by a fellow I've actually met, a guy named Dallas Murphy, called Rounding the Horn, which is about an adventurer on a boat. Dallas Murphy's book is choc full of terrific information about that whole [Cape Horn] coast. I guess I like adventure books and I like history and I like to be really knocked out by terrific prose. I always go back to Hemingway. In fact, I recently got on the board of the Hemingway Preservation Society. We're a small group involved in a partnership with the Cuban government to restore Hemingway's homestead outside of Havana. He lived in this place outside of Havana from 1939 to the year before he committed suicide. It was the one residence where he lived the longest and where he left behind the bulk of his memorabilia, his personal library, and about 10,000 documents. We have a wonderful cross-cultural collaboration [with] the Cuban preservationists.

... Listening to?

I just a got new iPod and I only use it this time of year when I travel. The last piece of music I just bought was Tina Turner's concert in Amsterdam, which just came in the mail yesterday because I couldn't buy it electronically. I love Madeleine Peyroux's sound. There's something about it that's very French, but there's also something about it that takes you back to post-World War II feelings. She has a beautiful voice. Alicia Keys is also someone I like.

... Watching?

My wife [Diane Barrett] and I are actively involved in being financial supporters of certain film projects and young filmmakers through a nonprofit called Fledgling Fund. We helped fund a film made by a young woman named Zana Briski called Born Into Brothels, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary last year. Little Miss Sunshine is hysterical. Every single character in that film is beautifully written – extremely funny or pathetic or both. They all just made the 90 minutes fly by with the combination of mirth and pathos. My wife and I just saw Apocalypse Now: Redux. They kept Marlon Brando in shadows [in the movie] because he showed up for work 100 pounds overweight. Brando called me about five years ago because he wanted advice renovating his house in Malibu. It was the kind of thing where I couldn't believe this was happening! There are TV shows we watch by appointment. 24 is one. We usually have our Netflix queue and will watch films that come in. We're about to watch The Conversation, which is a classic.

Bob Vila's eponymous series is nationally syndicated to local TV stations. For details of the 17th season, starting Sept. 11, see

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