Alberto Ríos is a baseball fan — and it helped make him a reader.
Growing up in Nogales, Mexico, he always rooted for the Pittsburgh Pirates, because of Roberto Clemente, the Pirates’ outfielder and first Latino superstar.
“My favorite baseball book is the great novel made up of all baseball trading cards,” Ríos says. “I especially like Chapter 1962, when they put a wood-grained background on the cards. I read and handled each one a thousand times; every card was a page. Every game was a story, every player a character, every ballpark a plot. It was reading come to life.”
It was also the beginning of a lifelong love of reading, and a wonder for the written word. As he enters his tenth season as host of “Books & Co.” on Arizona PBS, Ríos reflects on his favorite book as a child, “McElligot’s Pool,” a 1947 work by Dr. Seuss.
“It’s about imagination and possibility,” Ríos says, “and how to get to these places one careful step at a time. The story and its unlikely progression gave me a sense of how things — unusual, uncommon, untried things — could work together, and daydreaming in this way became my homework. Daydreaming was the book’s assignment to me, and I’ve worked on that never-ending assignment ever since.”
Talking with Ríos about books and authors, his joy in them is apparent. He sits on the edge of his seat and is as excited as a child opening birthday presents, with a noticeable twinkle in his eyes.
“I read every book cover to cover. If it’s a traditional book I’m reading, I put a colored flag to mark something I want to remember,” he says. “At the end of the book, with all the flags sticking out, the whole affair looks like a wonderful celebration, fittingly. It always makes me laugh.”
“After that, I go through and type up every passage I found interesting,” he adds. “If I’m reading the book electronically, I can mark passages, and have the notes send in their entirety to my email, where I save them, format them, re-read them and start to form a structure for the interview.”
For an author and poet so tied to books, Ríos sees nothing wrong with enjoying books on an electronic device or e-reader as opposed to a printed copy. “It’s not the container that’s important,” he says. “It’s the writing that’s the core.”
As for the new season, of “Books & Co.,” Ríos still enjoys each episode like it was the first.
“I can say with some wonder and some authority that no author has let me down,” he says. “In reading all these books, I understand with some humility and appreciation that there really is such a job as writer. In this sense, my reaction is very personal.”
With the PBS series “The Great American Read” returning September 11, Ríos puts on his professor’s hat to wax romantic about books.
“Books are real contributions to the world,” he says, “and serve a myriad of functions. I like to be entertained, of course, but sometimes knowledge itself overwhelms me in an equally satisfying way, or the climax of a story affects me in a way I didn’t expect.”
“And all these books, rather than exhausting me,” he concludes, “only make me want to read more.”