Keillor’s moments of contemplation have produced some of the finest essays in this lovely collection.

THE KEILLOR READER

Melancholy and joy infuse Keillor’s (O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic and Profound, 2013, etc.) latest collection.

Heir to Mark Twain, James Thurber and E. B. White, Keillor offers more than laconic, sometimes-rueful, reports from the fictional Midwestern town of Lake Wobegon. Besides selected Prairie Home Companion monologues—written in an adrenaline rush on the morning of each show—this collection contains poetry, fiction and assorted essays, each introduced by autobiographical musings. A frequent subject is Keillor’s childhood among the Sanctified Brethren, fundamentalists in Anoka, Minn., who “did not read novels or poetry and were wary of history, except what was in Scripture.” Writing, they believed, was sinful; nevertheless, becoming a writer was Keillor’s dream. In junior high school, he reported on sports for a local weekly; he worked his way through the University of Minnesota as an English major; and in 1969, he sold his first story to the New YorkerA Prairie Home Companion began on the radio in 1974. “My bread and butter,” he writes, “was the good people of Lake Wobegon, but writing about good people is an uphill climb. Their industriousness, their infernal humility, their schoolmarmish sincerity…their clichés falling like clockwork—they can be awfully tiring to be around.” Those good people, however, have not been Keillor’s only subjects. Here, he gives us an acerbic newspaper column about Americans who “shell out upward of $10 billion a year for health care for pets” but can’t abide the thought “that everybody in America should receive the same level of care enjoyed by an elderly golden retriever.” He lovingly recalls the urbane Paris Review editor George Plimpton. In “Home,” “Cheerfulness” and “My Stroke (I’m Okay),” he celebrates the gifts of sharing your world with people you’ve known “almost forever” and working at what you love. “The key to cheerfulness, I discovered…was forward motion,” he writes. “The calm contemplative life equals melancholy.”

Keillor’s moments of contemplation have produced some of the finest essays in this lovely collection.

Pub Date: May 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-670-02058-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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