Thursday, August 07, 2008

How dare he not mention Steinbeck

Although he is most known for hosting a fabulous radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor always describes himself as a writer. When asked his profession, he's not a radio host or a stage performer, but always a writer, or unemployed. And indeed, his writing is fabulous. I've read two of his Lake Wobegon books this summer, and am contemplating buying an autographed version of the latest. Always free, however, are his two columns at the show's website. One, "The Old Scout," is a weekly musing, and the other, "Post to the Host," is a Q&A with fans of APHC. This Post to the Host from a couple weeks back made me laugh, and I thought I'd pass it along. If only we could all handle our critics with such grace and humility as this:

[Dear Mr. Keillor,] I was appalled and became disoriented upon hearing you say that Faulkner wrote The Great American Novel. Which would that be? Aside from the fact that we all know Fitzgerald wrote The Great American Novel, I'm not aware that any of Faulkner's dirges have ever even been nominated for the position. I could forgive your naming Twain, or even Toni Morrison, but Faulkner!

Not only might I not listen again to your show, I've begun to doubt now that I've actually ever enjoyed any of them previously. Where you really an English major?

My only hope is that the good people of St. Paul (home of Fitzgerald, of course) will pummel you with new and used copies of The Great Gatsby until you come to your senses.

Walter B.
Austin, TX

This is the finest angry letter I've read in months and it sets a high standard for us all. I've read it over and over with great pleasure. I especially like the "and became disoriented" and the "begun to
doubt....that I've ever enjoyed any of them previously" which are truly original and raise the thing from the usual carping criticism to something like epistolary art.

As for The Great Gatsby, it has its moments, especially in the narrative of Nick Carraway, but the main guy Gatsby is an empty suit and his play for Daisy is rather shallow and adolescent. Dreiser did it so much better in Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy. Gatsby is still popular in high schools, for good reason, but we did a marathon reading of it here for FSF's centenary and it was sort of embarrassing. Ulysses it ain't. We're proud of him here but we're not deluded. (Gatsby is a slim book and so being pummeld with copies of it is like being pelted with marshmallows.)

Faulkner is such a master and I'd have to think hard about which one is the GAN—maybe Absalom, Absalom—maybe As I Lay Dying. I will try to re-read them this year and report back. Meanwhile, thanks for the letter. It made my day and my day is not so easy to make.

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