It’s time for decisions… about Garrison Keillor.
Specifically, what should I do with this pile of books? Most were purchased at thrift stores for a dollar or less. I may have purchased the poetry book new, and maybe Homegrown Democrat. I can’t recall. Keillor’s books never made an impression on me the way Saul Bellow, Joan Didion, or John Irving did. He fancied himself a modern day Mark Twain, or something. I didn’t see it. Had I read more of Keillor, it may have been different. It’s getting late to start reading him now.
These nine books have been gathering dust in a row on the bottom shelf of the right-side stacks. They have been within reach for years. I could see them from the chair I bought for a buck from L.P. “Pat” Foster at Sharpless Auctions in the early 1980s. It is my writing chair for Pete’s sake! Keillor is a writer! The collector in me amassed the Keillor volumes back when I was in a more accumulating mood.
Disposing of Keillor’s books is a practical problem. Do I expect to read them? No, not likely. Will I refer to something he wrote in my writing? Maybe, yet it is hard to imagine when the radio show made the dominant impression. Do they have sentimental value? Maybe. Are there more worthy books for retention waiting in the next room for shelf space? Yes definitely and that will be the decider.
Keillor’s allure was when A Prairie Home Companion was live on Saturday night, the signal coming through the clock radio atop the Kenmore refrigerator in our Midwestern home. I did things in the kitchen and listened. In important ways, his show made Saturday nights for a long time. I miss them. Will I miss the stack of books? If I would miss them, I might have picked one of them up over the last ten years.
I remember when he signed off the air in 1987. It felt momentous. Our two-year old child wanted to go for a walk in the neighborhood at the same time. No regrets about going with her instead of hearing Keillor live. We all must make choices.
I rigged my cassette recorder to capture the last show while we were gone. When we returned from our walk, I discovered the tape had run out before the show ended. Keillor never went over, except this time. I was able to re-record it on Sunday when it aired on a different radio station that broadcast from the Quad Cities.
We now know Denmark didn’t work out, nor did his then new marriage. He came back to radio. There were other problems, they said. I’m not sure what happened, or in what order. I didn’t pay much attention to his personal life. The star of the show was always the yarns he spun. It felt like it would never end.
In a June 16, 2016 New York Times article aligning with his second departure from the radio program, Cara Buckley wrote, “Everything about “Prairie Home” — the Guy Noir and Lives of the Cowboys sketches, the spots for Powdermilk Biscuits and the Ketchup Advisory Board, the monologues about the fictional Lake Wobegon — sprang from Mr. Keillor’s imagination. But the man spinning the plates at the center of it all managed to stay a mystery, even to people who know him well.”
These days, I’m spinning my own plates. To use a more local metaphor, I don’t have enough time to card my own wool, and spin my own yarn to make a sweater. Plate-spinners have gone out of fashion.
I wish I could have one of those Saturday nights back. Like the one I shared with our child in Colorado Springs in their first apartment there. We went to the grocer together, prepared dinner, and talked to each other with the sounds of a Prairie Home Companion in the background. Those were golden times whose embrace is fleeting.
I will figure it out. These septuagenarian days are also fleeting. In the universe of things to do with used books, these will likely go to the public library’s used book sale. I may have bought some of them there. It seems likely they will find readers in our community, even if I can’t find the time in our prairie home to be one of them.
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