Monday, May 31, 2010

Contemporary Authors- Garrison Keillor

I was thinking about the phenomenon of people spending the rest of their lives listening to the popular music they were into when they were in High School. Don't get me wrong, it could be the best music ever. Your taste very well be impeccable and you may listen to the greatest popular music to come from that four year period. But it's a bit like eating only grapes. They may be the best grapes ever but...variety is not only the spice of life, it's necessary for proper nutrition both mentally and physically. That's why I encourage everyone to get into everything.

There are some ways out of that trap.  One is by going into a more grown up genre like Classical music or Jazz.  One is to keep listening to new popular music, although one gets a little Death in Venice eventually (I remember from my teenage years that the creepiest person in any Goth club was inevitably the guy over 25.)  I would recommend the former road to musical freshness personally.  Although I've remarked to those around me recently how in my estimation from what I've heard, this is kind of a golden era for popular music.  There is so much good out there.

And I was also thinking about how I gravitate toward "The Classics" in my reading (and in my music for that matter.)  Partly because it's easier to find greatness there.  Partly because my sensibilities vis-a-vis religion and beauty are more in step with the Pre-Modern.  But what prevents me from being a staunch Classicist is the knowledge that 1) there is an ocean of lost masterpieces buried in the sands of time, but more to our point here 2) all classics were once new. 

And seeing as to how doing features on this blog seems to keep me posting with regularity (I am increasingly a fan of structure), I thought I might start a new feature where I give a little sketch of a contemporary author who I think is great, who you might also enjoy looking into their work.  Some of them will be major establishment authors who you may have heard of (as is the case this week), some of them you may not have heard of.  All of them, I assure you, I think you would enjoy.  I would urge everyone to patronize our living artists.  It's good for you and good for society.

Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor is most famous (and probably most likely to be remembered) for his radio show A Prairie Home Companion.  It's a variety show with an old-timey feel to it, including humorous radio dramas and musical variety acts. It's a lovely way to spend a Saturday night. In the third act of each week's show Keillor gives "The News from Lake Wobegon," which is a monologue about life in a small, fictional, mid-western town (That is to say, the town is fictional. They aren't monologues about living in a fictional town like some weird meta-fiction.) The monologues are remarkable in that they are sublime and transcendent at an astonishing rate for a weekly occurrence. Keillor started the show in the 1970s, and while he isn't completely responsible for Public Radio in America, it certainly wouldn't be what it is were it not for his influence.

He also hosts the radio program The Writer's Almanac in which he talks of major events in literary history from that date and closes with a poem by a famous poet. One of the aspects of Keillor's career that I find most inspiring (which I imagine shows from the focus of my blog and podcast) is his devotion to the arts and pointing toward greatness. Even while having literary ambitions of his own, so much of what he does is to point toward other great works. He has also put out some excellent anthologies. His Good Poems collections are excellent, a must own for any household, and one of my most likely gift giving options.

His essays are also a very good starting point for newcomers to his work. I'm hard pressed to think of another contemporary author who will most likely be remembered with the title "American Humorist" in the tradition of Twain, H.L. Mencken and Ring Lardner. If you've never read or heard Garrison Keillor, first you'll need to leave your cave. I would recommend his radio show as a starting point which, if you can't find on your radio dial, the Prairie Home Companion website assures me:

Every Saturday, from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. (Central Time) visit to listen to a live audio Web stream of the show. You can hear a rebroadcast of the live stream on Sunday, from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. (CT)
You can subscribe to The Writer's Almanac on iTunes as a daily podcast.  It's only a few minutes long and most days will give you an opportunity to work something into a conversation or introduce you to something you were not previous aware of. Also, I would recommend you go down to your local library and check out a few of his anthologies and collections. He wrote columns for a time for which you can check out at the link, but I'm noticing that he isn't doing that anymore at the moment. He is one of our more charming modern authors.  I would recommend his work to anyone.

1 comment:

  1. I don't listen to GK often...only when I'm traveling home from the city and happen to hear him on NPR...but I've loved him ever since the first time I heard him. Of course, we live only a hundred miles or more down the road from Lake Woebegone, so GK's voice and stories sound familiar and homey to my half-Swedish ears. It helps that I grew up in the Lutheran Church amidst smorgasbords and lefse.