Keillor, Garrison: Lake Wobegon Days
(researched by Allison Barrett)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Viking Books, New York, September 1985. The same edition was simultaneously released in Canada. These are the editions described below. Some of the stories contained in the book originally appeared in The Atlantic Monthly. Most of this information was gathered by first-hand observations of two first editions. Copies are held, among other places, in the Barrett Library and Taylor Collection of The University of Virginia's Special Collections Library.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
The first edition was bound in cloth.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
i: half title page ii: other works by author iii: full title page iv: copyright information v: dedication vi: blank page vii-x: preface xi: anonymous poem xii: blank page xiii: half title page xiv: blank page 1-337: text 338-9: blank pages 176 leaves
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
The book opens with a preface by the author.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
The dust jacket is illustrated with a painting in full color by Peter Thorpe. The first page of each chapter (including the preface) and the full title page each have a single black and white sketch illustration. There are fifteen (15) in all, done by Mike Lynch. Please view the link in item number seven (7) for a sample illustration.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
The text is easy to read, approximately an 11 point font. Pages are 9 1/4 X 6 inches wide, with margins of 1 inch at the bottom of the page, 3/4 of an inch on either side, and 7/8 of an inch at the top of the page (the margin space includes line and chapter/ book title located at the top of each page). There are 37 lines of text on each page, not including the first and last page of every chapter. Chapters begin with left justified, regular type print. Also, Keillor contains something very unique in his format. Throughout the text, the reader is notified by an asterik (*) to look to the bottom of the page, as in a footnote. These "footnotes" usually develop the story further or, at times, develop entir ely new stories. These are in a smaller font and are marked off from the story text by a small line. At times these footnotes will take half of the page, yet then continue on to the bottom of the next in the same format. For an example of this, please view the link in item number nine (9). This is a scanned image of the title page of the first chapter: "HOME."
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The paper is slightly yellowed, but in excellent condition. The paper is thick and sturdy, with no tears, and all edges are smooth cut. All leaves have been thoroughly and appropriately cut as well.
11 Description of binding(s)
The book is bound in red cloth, covered with a yellowish-brown paper pasted over the front and the back. This yellowish-gold comes within 1 1/2 inches of the spine. Gold letters gilded on the spine read the author's name, title of the book, and publisher's name. Included on the front cover are the author's initials (GK) embedded in the cloth slightly off-center to the upper right. These initials are not gilded.
12 Transcription of title page
LAKE/WOBEGON/DAYS/GARRISON/KEILLOR/VIKING (slashes have been used to denote vertical lines)
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
Information unknown.
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
Some first editions contain an errata sticker. On the dust jacket, the back inside flap, there reads a short biography of Keillor. In it is a sentence which says: "The show [Prairie Home Companion], which began in 1974, is broadcast by the National Public Radio Network..." This information was faulty. Some first editions have underneath this a sticker in a handwritten font which reads: "CORRECTION: Our radio show is broadcast by American Public Radio, not CBS, NPR, CPR, or any of the other guys. G.K." Other first editions have the corrected dust jacket. Both copies (one with and one without the errata sticker) are held in the Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia.
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
There were no other editions printed by Viking books after the intial success of the first edition. However, Viking Penguin (a division of Viking Books) has printed numerous editions. (See item five (5) for a complete listing of all other editions of Lake Wobegon Days.)
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
As found in Publisher's Weekly, July 26, 1985- August 1, 1986: First printing: 180,000 copies. Seventh printing: 50,000 copies for a total of 5,000,000. Ninth printing: 100,000 copies. Tenth printing: 50,000 copies for a total of 750,000. Eleventh printing: 75,000 copies for a total of 825,000. Twelfth printing: 50,000 copies for a total of 925,000. Nineteenth printing: 25,000 copies for a total of 1,219,500. Twenty-first printing: unknown.
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
Please note that in all editions, the illustrations created by Mike Lynch remain the same, as does the format of the chapters in regard to the footnotes. Other editions include: Viking Penguin, 1985 (Braille). Thorndike Press, 1985 (large print edition). Macmillan Library Reference, 1986 (large print edition). Viking Penguin, 1986 (trade paper). Viking Penguin, 1986 (mass market paper). Penguin, 1986. Viking Penguin, 1990. Viking Penguin, 1992 (Garrison Keillor Box: Lake Wobegon Days, Leaving Home, Happy to Be Here, and We Are Still Married). Faber and Faber, 1993. Faber and Faber, 1998.
6 Last date in print?
The most recent edition was printed by Faber and Faber, November 1998. However, the most popular edition, sold by most commercial booksellers, is the January 1990 Viking Penguin edition. The reason for its popularity is its compatibility in cover design and format to the newly released Wobegon Boy by Keillor. For an image of the cover of the Viking Penguin edition, see item number two (2).
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
(The following information was found in Bowker's Annual, 1986.) Publisher's Weekly found that Keillor's book did 1,108,016 in overall sales for the calendar year 1985. However, this figure did not include books "which were still on bookstore and wholesale shelves, books on their way back to the publisher's warehouses, as well as those on return piles."
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
Publisher's Weekly cites Lake Wobegon Days as having done 1,108,016 in sales in the 1985 calendar year (also see item seven (7) for complete details of this particular sales figure). As of February 7, 1986, a total of 1,167,500 copies were in print. The mass market edition totalled 2,000,000 copies off of its first printing on August 5, 1986.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
What follows is an ad placed in The Atlantic Monthly, August and October of 1985. For a scanned image of this particular ad see item number ten (10) (please note from the "Supplementary Materials Section" the reverse color of this particular scanned image). It is a full page ad which reads: "Now featured in the Wireless Catalog. Welcome to Lake Wobegon, Minnesota- "Where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." Garrison Keillor's new book, Lake Wobegon Days, takes us to the little town that "time forgot and the decades can not improve." Keillor explains the town's unusual beginnings: confused explorers, passionate missionaries, a surveying error that left Lake Wobegon permanently off the anyone's map. He introduces us to the German and Norwegian families that settled there, particularly the Ingqvists and the Krebsbachs. And we grow up with the narrator-- a skinny, bespectacled kid from a strait-laced Protestant family--as he explores his fascination with the Catholic Church (Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility) and the awkwardness of adolescent schooldays (his deep embarassment at wearing black Keds; of being bullied by the football coach: "There's an animal in you and I intend to bring it out"; and his fantasies of romance with Dorene: "she turns to me with a smoky Minnesota look...I ask her for a kiss"). The warmth and the unique Keillor humor, matched with a bullseye insight into the everyday details of a small town that's really everyone's hometown, guarantee you'll treasure and reread this book for years to come. These and many other items are available through mail through Wireless, a catalog for friends and fans of radio. The News from Lake Wobegon cassettes. There have been so many requests over the years for cassette copies of Garrison Keillor's most popular monologues, from his A Prairie Home Companion public radio broadcasts that it finally happened. Four 60-minute cassettes, each containing four to six "News from Lake Wobegon" stories appropriate to each of the four seasons, are now available."
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
A21019990303184429.jpg
11 Other promotion
Available to purchase are personalized Lake Wobegon doormats and Lake Wobegon postcards with three different seasonal scenes. In 1990, Longman Publishers published a book by Frances Armstrong Boyd titled Stories from Lake Wobegon: advanced listening and conversation skills. This text also came with two audiocassette tapes. This book was intended to function as instruction in the English language for foreign speakers. Audio-visual activities accompanied it as well.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
The stories of Lake Wobegon are continued and shared in numerous audio media. Audiocassette tapes include: Lake Wobegon Days. Four cassettes, one for each season. 1985. Lake Wobegon Days. Four cassettes produced by Minnesota Public Radio, March 1987. It was a Grammy Award Winner in 1987. Lake Wobegon Days. Two cassettes. 1989. Sequels on audiocassette tapes include: News from Lake Wobegon. 1983, 1989. Wobegon Tales. 1986. Beyond Lake Wobegon. 1987. More News from Lake Wobegon: Hope. 1989. More News from Lake Wobegon: Faith. 1989. More News from Lake Wobegon: Love. 1989. More News from Lake Wobegon: Humor. 1989. Gospel Birds; and other stories from Lake Wobegon. 1987, 1993. We are Still Married. Two cassettes. 1990. Lake Wobegon USA. Four cassettes. 1990, 1993. Faith: Stories from the Collection: More News from Lake Wobegon. 1991. Patience. 1993. Fertility. 1995. Rhubarb. 1995. Mother, Father, Uncle, Aunt: Stories From Lake Wobegon. Two cassettes. 1996. Wobegon Meets Alternative Radio. 1997. Wobegon Boy. Four cassettes. 1997. Life These Days: Stories from Lake Wobegon. Two Cassettes. 1998. Fall Stories from the Collection: News from Lake Wobegon. 1998. Sequels on compact disc include: News from Lake Wobegon. Four discs. 1983. More News from Lake Wobegon. 1989. More News from Lake Wobegon. Four discs. 1992. News from Lake Wobegon. 1992. Gospel Birds; and other stories of Lake Wobegon. Three discs. 1993. Mother, Father, Uncle, Aunt: stories from Lake Wobegon. Three discs. 1996. News from Lake Wobegon: Summer: Stories from the Collection. 1997. News from Lake Wobegon Winter. 1997. Spring: Stories from the Collection: News from Lake Wobegon. 1998. Life These Days: Stories from Lake Wobegon. Three discs. 1998. Videocassettes: Lake Wobegon Loyalty Days: a recital for mixed baritone and orchestra. Minnesota Public Radio, 1989. Performed with the Minnesota Orchestra- conducted by Phillip Brunelle. Written and read by Garrison Keillor. Produced and directed by Phillip Byrd. Also available on compact disc. Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon Spring Weekend. Highbridge, 1992. Includes performances by the Everly Brothers, Taj Mahal, Tom Keith, Albert Lee, Richard Dworsky, Kate MacKenzie, Dan Rowles. Read by Garrison Keillor.
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
Translations include: Dagar i Lake Wobegon. (no translator given) Forum, 1987. Swedish. Meng hui Yu ch'ou hu. (no translator given) Huang kuan ch'u pan she, 1986. Chinese. O lago das aguas paradas. (no translator given) Editora Record, ?1985, 1989. Portuguese. Farvel til Lake Wobegon: en kronike om livets gang et sted i Amerikas hjerte.(no translator given) Borgen, 1989.
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
Excerpts first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly as the cover story in August 1985. These excerpts were published entirely in this single volume, the novel to be published the following month. The stories read smoothly, not as excerpts taken out of context and placed beside each other for promotional value. Keillor crafted transitions to piece them together. For a scanned image of the cover of The Atlantic Monthly in which the stories appeared, please see the "Supplementary Materials Section." Note the reverse color imaging.
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
The stories of Lake Wobegon continue in many different novels. However, Lake Wobegon Days was Keillor's first novel. Books which continue to tell the story of Lake Wobegon include: Leaving Home: a Collection of Lake Wobegon Stories. Penguin, 1988. We Are Still Married: Stories and Letters. Penguin, 1989. Truckstop and other Lake Wobegon Stories. Penguin, 1995. Wobegon Boy. Viking, 1997. More News From Lake Wobegon: Love. Penguin, 1999.
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
The Lake Wobegon stories are set in a rural Minnesota town--something of which Garrison Keillor knew about. Born in Anoka, Minnesota on August 7, 1942, he grew up south of Anoka and north of Minneapolis i
n what is now South Boston. He was born Gary Edward Keillor, adopting the name "Garrison" in eighth grade when he began writing poetry for public perusal. He wanted "to hide behind a name that meant strength" (Roback, 138). He is the third of six child
ren born to John P. Keillor, a railway mail clerk, and Grace R. [Denham] Keillor. His mother was a devout member of the Church of the Brethren, a sect of dissenters from Anglicans. In 1960 Keillor entered the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Working various jobs which included being a parking attendant, a writer/editor for the college magazine the Ivory Tower, and an announcer on the campus radio station KUOM, he eve
ntually received a BA in English and journalism in 1966. He left Minnesota and unfruitfully applied for numerous jobs for journals such as The Atlantic Monthly. "They could tell that I was somebody who had just changed in a public restroom," say
s Keillor (Moritz, 221).
He returned to the University of Minnesota and began working toward his MA in English. Having married a fellow student, Mary Guntzel, in 1965, he found his marriage failing while he dedicated his time to writing articles and novels. Eventually, as his
success required more time, the two were divorced in 1974, Keillor's son, Jason, living with him.
In 1969 Keillor's career began to take off. Although he never completed his MA program, he began to host Minnesota Public Radio's classical morning program, eventually evolving it into The Prairie Home Morning Show. Keillor stayed with this show for 14
years. The New Yorker began publishing his work in 1969 as well. At this time Lake Wobegon came into existence.
However, the idea for The Prairie Home Companion radio show did not evolve until Keillor, sent to do an article for the New Yorker, witnessed the move of the Grand Ole Opry. It inspired him to create a radio program, as Keillor says, based on the
home values of the American grassroots: "a leisurely blend of listenable music, clean fun, and old-fashioned story-telling" (Moritz, 221). He approached Bill Kling, president of Minnesota Public Radio, and his show debuted two months later: July 6, 1974
. The first live recording was before an audience of twelve people in the Janet Wallace Auditorium at Malcalester College in St. Paul and eventually relocated to the World Theater downtown in 1978. The Prairie Home Companion's first national broadcast wa
s part of Folk Festival USA, February 1979.
His personal life was also soaring. In 1985 he attended the 25th reunion of Anoka High School where he met Ulla Skaerved. The two were married in Holte, Denmark in December of that year. This year also saw the publication and rise in the bestsellers c
harts of Keillor's first novel containing orginal and new material, Lake Wobegon Days. Previous publications of Keillor's were compilations of his radio monologues.
In 1987 Keillor ended The Prairie Home Companion show, telling his audience that he wished to "live for a while in my wife's country of Denmark. I want to be a writer again. And it is time to stop" (Brook, 337). Yet as Keillor soon found, he couldn't
stop. After numerous novels, cassette tapes, and broadcasts, Keillor returned to The Prairie Home Companion in 1989 at the American Radio Company and in 1993 returned to Minnesota, where he currently resides, writing and working on the weekly show. Keil
lor has all of his original manuscripts.
Currently his show has an estimated 2.2 million listeners and his newest novel, Wobegon Boy, has proven successful. Something in this shy six-foot-four man has captured the essence of the small-town American life and, along with it, the he
arts of many Americans.
References cited:
Brook, J.M., ed. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Yearbook: 1987. Gala Research Company, Detroit: 1988. pp. 326-337.
Mortiz, Charles, ed. Current Biography Yearbook 1985. HW Wilson Company, New York City: 1985. pp. 221-3.
Roback, Diane. "PW Interviews: Garrison Keillor." Publisher's Weekly. September 13, 1985. pp. 138-9.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Critics raved about Lake Wobegon Days from the minute it hit the shelves. Even the few reviewers who did have negative comments cushioned them among lavish praise. Few could pass the opportunity to compa
re Keillor's prose style to that of Thurber or Twain. Most found the poignancy of the storytelling in the way Keillor could craft a universal story, one that everyone knows because they, too, have lived it.
Keillor's reputation preceded him in the reception of this book due to his radio show. Because of the popularity of "The Prairie Home Companion," reviewers had a difficult time separating the two. If the book was mentioned, the show was referred to. G
eeslin's introduction for his article in People Weekly was not uncommon: "For those who listen to ?A Prairie Home Companion' on American Public Radio, this book will be a feast" (Geeslin, 19). Even his style of prose was comparable to his weekly
broadcast monologue: "Keillor's prose is every bit as exhilarating as his on-the-air improvisations" (Lehman, 92).
Yet most compared Keillor, with his satiric writing, to James Thurber, E.B. White, and Mark Twain: "[A] pack of beguiling lies...in which Keillor's storytelling approaches the quality of Twain's" (Skow, 70). Veronica Geng of The New York Times s
ays, "I hadn't read Thurber in years, but Lake Wobegon Days sent me back to his Columbus" (Geng). When speaking of Keillor's extended footnotes, Geng writes, "[Y]ou're probably someone who believes, as I do, that the greatest moment in American li
terature is when Huck Finn says to himself ?All right, then, I'll go to hell!'" (Geng).
The aspect of Keillor's prose most praised by his contemporary critics was his "simplicity and warmth, not to mention an unpredictable wayward streak" (Sutin, 42). "Parody, sometimes gentle, mostly full of humorous bite, plucks chords of recognition for
everyone who's at all familiar with our Midwest past" (Forbes, 19). It was Keillor's ability to tell a warm story, a story that was applicable to the history of the American family, which the critics fully praised. "Lake Wobegon Days is about the
way our beliefs, desires and fears tail off into abstractions--and get renewed from time to time" (Geng). The tale of Lake Wobegon is "a story told by a master about his long-gone childhood in a marvelous kind of time machine...Keillor knows [that] that
childhood is the small town everyone came from" (Skow, 73). Lake Wobegon is a place where people "surmount the difficulties (often hilariously self-created) of their lives through an awkward, endearing loyalty to the values of their ancestors; honesty,
industry and church" (Sutin, 43). David Lehman of Newsweek says, "Humor, not satire, is Keillor's element. What he mocks, he makes us love; one story leads to another, and each is grounded in reverence for the eccentricities and sublime banaliti
es of small-town life in the heart of America's heartland" (Lehrman, 92).
The few negative comments regarding Keillor's book focused on an under-riding sense of bitterness. "There is a bitter quality to some of his recollections of Lake Wobegon, only partly softened by humor," says John Skow of Time (Skow, 72). "Qualms
go bitter," says The New York Times. Another critic for Time magazine says: "Lake Wobegon also gets lost in the drift at times. The problem: Keillor's fondness for his rural creations sidetracks a fine story about growing up, surviving fa
me and accepting life" (Reed, 70). Yet this same critic then turns and questions himself: "But there may be a certain country slyness in the style. Keillor's aesthetic, afterall, echoes Lake Wobegon's motto: ?We are what we are'" (Reed, 70).
Despite these few negative comments, Keillor's book seems to have been a huge success. Critics dote on his storytelling ability (comparing him to Twain, Turber, and White) and his ability to make his story universal. In the words of the United States Su
preme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, "Garrison reminded us that generations past are like generations present" (Kling, 10).
Works Cited:
Forbes, Malcolm S. "Lake Wobegon Days." Forbes. Feb. 10, 1986. v137 p19
Geeslin, Campbell. "Lake Wobegon Days." People Weekly. Oct. 14, 1985. v24 p19
Geng, Veronica. "Idylls of Minnesota." The New York Times. August 25,1985. sec 7, p1, col 1
Kling, William. "Farewell to Lake Wobegon." U.S. News & World Report. June 22, 1987. v102 p10
Lehrman, David. "Before the Fall." Newsweek. Sept. 9, 1985. p92
Reed, J.D. "Lake Wobegon Days." Time. Sept. 2, 1985. v126 p70
Skow, John. "Lonesome whistle blowing; Lake Wobegon's tall tale teller is tickling the radio dial and best-seller list." Time. Nov. 4, 1985. v126 p68
Sutin, Lawrence. "Lake Wobegon: the little town that time forgot; where women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children above-average." Saturday Evening Post. Sept. 1986. v258 p42
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Critics raved about Lake Wobegon Days from the minute it hit the shelves. Even the few reviewers who did have negative comments cushioned them among lavish praise. Few could pass the opportunity to compa
re Keillor's prose style to that of Thurber or Twain. Most found the poignancy of the storytelling in the way Keillor could craft a universal story, one that everyone knows because they, too, have lived it.
Keillor's reputation preceded him in the reception of this book due to his radio show. Because of the popularity of "The Prairie Home Companion," reviewers had a difficult time separating the two. If the book was mentioned, the show was referred to. G
eeslin's introduction for his article in People Weekly was not uncommon: "For those who listen to ?A Prairie Home Companion' on American Public Radio, this book will be a feast" (Geeslin, 19). Even his style of prose was comparable to his weekly
broadcast monologue: "Keillor's prose is every bit as exhilarating as his on-the-air improvisations" (Lehman, 92).
Yet most compared Keillor, with his satiric writing, to James Thurber, E.B. White, and Mark Twain: "[A] pack of beguiling lies...in which Keillor's storytelling approaches the quality of Twain's" (Skow, 70). Veronica Geng of The New York Times s
ays, "I hadn't read Thurber in years, but Lake Wobegon Days sent me back to his Columbus" (Geng). When speaking of Keillor's extended footnotes, Geng writes, "[Y]ou're probably someone who believes, as I do, that the greatest moment in American li
terature is when Huck Finn says to himself ?All right, then, I'll go to hell!'" (Geng).
The aspect of Keillor's prose most praised by his contemporary critics was his "simplicity and warmth, not to mention an unpredictable wayward streak" (Sutin, 42). "Parody, sometimes gentle, mostly full of humorous bite, plucks chords of recognition for
everyone who's at all familiar with our Midwest past" (Forbes, 19). It was Keillor's ability to tell a warm story, a story that was applicable to the history of the American family, which the critics fully praised. "Lake Wobegon Days is about the
way our beliefs, desires and fears tail off into abstractions--and get renewed from time to time" (Geng). The tale of Lake Wobegon is "a story told by a master about his long-gone childhood in a marvelous kind of time machine...Keillor knows [that] that
childhood is the small town everyone came from" (Skow, 73). Lake Wobegon is a place where people "surmount the difficulties (often hilariously self-created) of their lives through an awkward, endearing loyalty to the values of their ancestors; honesty,
industry and church" (Sutin, 43). David Lehman of Newsweek says, "Humor, not satire, is Keillor's element. What he mocks, he makes us love; one story leads to another, and each is grounded in reverence for the eccentricities and sublime banaliti
es of small-town life in the heart of America's heartland" (Lehrman, 92).
The few negative comments regarding Keillor's book focused on an under-riding sense of bitterness. "There is a bitter quality to some of his recollections of Lake Wobegon, only partly softened by humor," says John Skow of Time (Skow, 72). "Qualms
go bitter," says The New York Times. Another critic for Time magazine says: "Lake Wobegon also gets lost in the drift at times. The problem: Keillor's fondness for his rural creations sidetracks a fine story about growing up, surviving fa
me and accepting life" (Reed, 70). Yet this same critic then turns and questions himself: "But there may be a certain country slyness in the style. Keillor's aesthetic, afterall, echoes Lake Wobegon's motto: ?We are what we are'" (Reed, 70).
Despite these few negative comments, Keillor's book seems to have been a huge success. Critics dote on his storytelling ability (comparing him to Twain, Turber, and White) and his ability to make his story universal. In the words of the United States Su
preme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, "Garrison reminded us that generations past are like generations present" (Kling, 10).
Works Cited:
Forbes, Malcolm S. "Lake Wobegon Days." Forbes. Feb. 10, 1986. v137 p19
Geeslin, Campbell. "Lake Wobegon Days." People Weekly. Oct. 14, 1985. v24 p19
Geng, Veronica. "Idylls of Minnesota." The New York Times. August 25,1985. sec 7, p1, col 1
Kling, William. "Farewell to Lake Wobegon." U.S. News & World Report. June 22, 1987. v102 p10
Lehrman, David. "Before the Fall." Newsweek. Sept. 9, 1985. p92
Reed, J.D. "Lake Wobegon Days." Time. Sept. 2, 1985. v126 p70
Skow, John. "Lonesome whistle blowing; Lake Wobegon's tall tale teller is tickling the radio dial and best-seller list." Time. Nov. 4, 1985. v126 p68
Sutin, Lawrence. "Lake Wobegon: the little town that time forgot; where women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children above-average." Saturday Evening Post. Sept. 1986. v258 p42
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
Although critics are an important part of modern culture and usually cover the gambit of aspects and angles of any best seller, it is odd at how many were left out in the reviews of Keillor's book Lake Wobegon
Days
. Although this database did allow for the record of what they did say, here shall suffice for a discussion on the elements heretofore neglected.
Left out of many discussions were important factors of this book. These included Keillor's pre-established radio personality, although completely at odds with his real life character, and how universal his story had become. Although having a name that s
old, Keillor's book did not need and will never need current events to sell.
Keillor had been airing his extremely popular Prairie Home Companion radio show for six years before Lake Wobegon Days was published. With over an estimated 2.2 million listeners, free advertising to all of these, and a marketability as an
already-popular figure, Keillor was sellable. Yet the critics never mention this as a possible sales booster, although they also had a hard time separating the two entities. People Weekly wrote, "For those who listen to ?A Prairie Home Companion'
on American Public Radio, this book will be a feast," (Geeslin, 19). For the 2.2 million who did listen it was and they bought it. Yet while acknowledging Keillor's reputation, the critics used it to sell the book to readers as well, not stopping to th
ink that the show perhaps had unduly influenced their take on the book. David Lehrman of Newsweek wrote, "Keillor's prose is every bit as exhilarating as his on-the-air improvisations," (Lehrman, 92). The two come hand in hand. His radio person
ality, although hard to pinpoint its exact affect, no doubt had an influence. The critics themselves were caught unaware. What if Keillor had not been a radio celebrity? Would this book of uncohesive, unchronological vignettes have made it to the bests
eller list?
Keillor's real life was also never mentioned by the critics. This was surprising since it is so at odds with his portrayed image as the narrator of the Lake Wobegon stories and his radio personality. A rich professional, divorced, with one son, a live-i
n-mate once, and who then married a Danish woman, leaving the United States for years to live in Denmark, and spending his free time writing at his desk in his huge house in Minnesota, Keillor hardly seems average. Yet he is celebrated for writing about
the typical small town family man and the common American life. Lehrman even writes of Keillor's book, "[O]ne story leads to another, and each is grounded in reverence for the eccentricities and sublime banalities of small-town life in the heart of Ameri
ca's heartland," (Lehrman, 92). Keillor shouldn't be the ultimate source on average American life, yet he is. Critics never told us, the reader, how we should reconcile this. Why?
It is because Keillor's reputation as this wholesome family man was established in the hearts and minds of American audiences long before Keillor's book ever came out. When we read his books or listen to his show, we do not hear the voice of Garrison Kei
llor the radio host and author, we hear the voice of Gary Keillor the skinny kid with glasses. Keillor makes himself into what he wants his audience to see. Even the critics are blindsided by how Keillor does this and no one mentions how bizarrely polar
this is from his true character. This dualism is a wonderful attestation to Keillor's ability to write, make his audience feel, and make his audience forget. His ability to do this should rank him with some of the most creative, ingenious writers.
Another aspect of Keillor's creative writing was his ability to make his story universal. Most critics did praise this, yet few ever mentioned what exact elements existed to make it feel as such. Since they seem obvious to delineate, it once again seeme
d a telling exclusion. Keillor's book is universal because it had something for everyone, young to old. It also takes shared fears of the human experience and treats them lightly, making the reader realize the irrationality of it yet not treating it fli
ppantly.
For the young, or the young in all of us, Keillor has a wonderful story of himself, Gary Keillor, as an elementary student participating in school sports. It is a scene as old as time: "After the popular ones got picked [by the captains], we stood in a
bunch looking down at the floor, waiting to see if our rating had changed. They took their sweet time choosing us, we had plenty of time to study our shoes. Mine were Keds, black, though white ones were more popular. Mother said that black wouldn't sho
w the dirt. She didn't know how the wrong shoes could mark a person and raise questions in other people's minds," (Keillor, 180-1). Keillor than lives out a fantasy where he finds out from his Mother the real reason for his black Keds: "'I have somethin
g to tell you, son.' she would say it. ?No! No!' ?Yes, I'm afraid its true.' ?So that's why--' ?Yes. I'm sorry I couldn't tell you before. I thought I should wait.' ?But I can't--' ?No, I'm afraid not. We just have to make the best of it.'" (Keill
or, 181). Not only does the humor of this scene appeal to many of us, but it is also the element of a shared experience which makes the reader chuckle in the "now-I-am-more-mature-than-that" way. Yet Keillor knows that we have all been hyper-conscious o
f the most minute difference in clothing or appearance which no one else seems to notice but becomes so important to us. Keillor found a fear we all had and makes us see how silly it was (or is) and makes us laugh about it.
He does this again with a scene regarding a grown, mature adult. Mrs. Mueller, a neighbor of Gary Keillor's prone to fear of the unknown, attends a church revival. Later she leaves her house to find that "[s]he couldn't hear a voice, not a car, not even
a dog bark. No footsteps on gravel, no screen door slapping...She waited for some other sound and heard nothing. Then it occurred to her that the Second Coming had taken place. Jesus had come during the night to take His loved ones to heaven...She alo
ne was left on earth to suffer," (Keillor, 329). Keillor enumerates a fear in the minds of all with a real poignancy, making us close to a character with the same vices as ourselves or someone we know. Yet he then changes the tone and make us laugh wit
h a new consciousness of the irony of the situation. "The back door of the rectory squeaked and Father Emil stepped out in his black short sleeve shirt...So he had been left behind, too. She wondered about Sister Francis. Were all the Sisters sitting i
n their kitchen eating Grape-Nuts, unaware of what had happened?" (Keillor, 330). If the Second Coming had occurred, would Jesus have left behind religious priests and nuns? Yet Mrs. Mueller cannot rid herself of the notion and had already allowed hers
elf to be taken over by fear and apprehension. Human beings in general have the tendency to act in such a manner.
Yet not all such stories end with laughter. One of the most touching scenes comes from Gary Keillor's adolescence. He attends church with his new girlfriends parents to meet them and get approval: "Her mother wept, her father who had given me stony look
s for hours bent down and put his face in his hands, her lovely self drew out a hanky and held it to her eyes--I wanted to cry right along with her and maybe slip my arms around her shoulders--and I couldn't. I took out my handkerchief, thinking it would
get me started, and blew my nose, but there was nothing there. I only cried later, after I walked her home...she turned to me and said ?I hate to tell you this but you are one of the coldest people I ever met.' I cried at home, in bed, in the dark," (
Keillor, 218). There is little humor in this scenario, yet it is poignant and real. It deals with the pain of growing up.
For one final example of how universal this story is, Keillor also deals with the pain of being grown up. The Sons of Knute (analogous to a modern day Moose Lodge) take their annual duck-hunting trip. After hours of drinking in the marshes, lovable bick
ering, and shooting nothing, the conversation turns to the precariousness of life: "It truly does seem like the end. Of these grizzled old comrades in their big jackets and brown ponchos, gray-haired veterans of so many hunts, good pals and true, the fi
nest men by God that you could ever hope to meet--who knows which ones will never see October?" (Keillor, 194).
With these touching stories that Keillor shares with us of life, is there any doubt as to why the book is popular? He not only presents us with humor, but our shared experiences and fears, the fears of all ages, are enumerated yet laughed at while not be
ing treated flippantly. The book gives the reader a sense of perspective that these stories are shared through time and that ones own travesties have probably been experienced somewhere by someone before you. Supreme Court Justice Blackmun, although not
a literary critic, put this phenomenon best when he says of Keillor's book, "Garrison reminded us that generations past are like generations present," (Kling, 10).
These examples and more are the reasons why Keillor's book will never need current events to sell. As the American public tries to hold on to their roots and reminisce about their childhood, as they try to escape the fears they have today, and as they ha
ppen to stumble upon Keillor's book on the bookshelves and open it up for a chuckle, Lake Wobegon Days will always be read by somebody somewhere. Although the critics missed Keillor's pre-established radio personality, which probably influenced in
itial sales but won't be necessary to sell the book in the future, and how it was completely at odds with his real life character, they were definitely drawn to something. That "something" is how universal the stories are and how they focus on shared hu
man experinces, not dated cultural events. And Keillor's book remained on the bestseller list for months. Not too shabby for a tall skinny kid with glasses from Ruraltown, Minnesota.
Works Cited: Geeslin, Campbell. "Lake Wobegon Days." People Weekly. Oct. 14, 1985. v24 p19.
Keillor, Garrison. Lake Wobegon Days. New York: Penguin, 1985.
Kling, William. "Farewell to Lake Wobegon." U.S. News & World Report. June 22, 1987. v102 p10.
Lehrman, David. "Before the Fall." Newsweek. Sept. 9, 1985. p92.
Supplemental Material
Please note that the cover image of The Atlantic Monthly and the image of the advertisement are both off of microfiche from the University of Virginia's Clemons Library collection. Because of this, they are in reverse color. They were provided for visual representation only. For exact replicas, with correct color, please see The Atlantic Monthly edi tion for August 1985.
Image of <i>The Atlantic Monthly</i> cover
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