The weekly public radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” and the books by the show’s creator, humorist Garrison Keillor, often tell of the small town of Lake Wobegon, a happier place than Winesburg, Ohio (Sherwood Anderson’s creation) and better known than most other fictional towns. Even if Keillor doesn’t consider his Lake Wobegon stories great literature, any characters who endure Minnesota winters are great.
Garrison Keillor the college student did not have an “enormous complicated talent,” he writes in the introduction to “The Keillor Reader,” his new book, “so I accepted that I could not be a true artist and that my future lay in the field of amusement.”
‘In 1974, after writing a fact piece for the magazine about the Grand Ole Opry, I started up A Prairie Home Companion on Saturday evenings, a live variety show with room for a long monologue by me (“It has been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon. . . .”) . . . .
Life is good when you finally grow up. You find work you enjoy, buy a car that starts on cold mornings, look for love, sing along with the radio . . . You put away sarcasm . . . . ‘
As a boy Keillor was praised by a teacher for the voice with which he read to her, and in college he had a job as a newscaster.
His writing voice is also effective for this book that is a miscellany, as he provides an introduction for each piece old and new. The book from Keillor (www.GarrisonKeillor.com), who has appeared on stage in Omaha in recent years, has samples from his novels, books of humor, and radio and magazine work. “The Keillor Reader” should be picked up by anyone who has enjoyed his radio show that began 40 years ago.
This retrospective has minor imperfections but is welcome in part because of the new writing including the introductions for each of the four sections and a new 20-page essay to close the book, “Cheerfulness,” which his parents possessed “all the more as they got old” but “was a new topic” for him as he wrote this at age 70, describing his parents’ lives and his own life. Besides this serious essay, other pieces seriously address topics such as religion (the new “Anglicans”), “Home” (from National Geographic), and Mark Twain’s autobiography (reviewed by Keillor).
The author fom Minnesota has often written for The New Yorker, where some of these pieces are from.