These are not Lake Woebegon Days
Garrison Keillor Writes A Book Report
That cuddly Minnesotan, Garrison Keillor, has been an uninvited geist in my corner of the Zeit lately. First he shows up on my favorite websites, along with some I've never heard of, looking like a humorless humorist suing some guy who made 100 t-shirts parodying The Prairie Home Companion. Oddly, he didn't have a problem with the parody of him in Mike Nelson's Death Rat! A Novel, a written portrayal that made him seem mean-spirited, egomaniacal and petty--a portrayal that made him seem like the sort of guy who would have his lawyer issue a Cease and Desist letter to a guy who made a small amount of humorous t-shirts. Anyway, so there was Keillor--and isn't PHC satirical itself? Parodying some sort of ideal of what people think midwesterners are?--rattling his chains and woo-ing and all, and then I hear that he's written a book review of a new biography of Hank Williams (NY Times, registration required), and I decided I had to go read it, in case Keillor was sending me some sort of secret code.
So, Mr. Keillor, and I'm addressing this to you because I know you can hear me, I am not going to explain to you the laws regarding parody, satire, and fair use. You know best how you want to waste your money. Me, if I had that much money that I could hire a team of lawyers, I might funnel that money to the needy, especially right now. My lawyers call me and say "Yo, Gar, you want us to send a C+D to some blogger? It'll cost you $500" I'd say, no, good sirs, I'm going to take that $500 that you'd just spend on a whore in Vegas and send it to the Red Cross. Good day, sir!" I personally would not send money to the Red Cross, but I bet that you, Keillor, don't have the same ideological differences with them that I do. No, I'm not going to tell you what to do with your money. I'm going to tell you how to write a book review.
In “Tense Present,” (Harpers, April 2001) David Foster Wallace tells us that a book review “is a complicated assignment. ... Rhetorically, its whole project is informed by a question that is too crass ever to mention up front: ’Should you buy this book?’” GK, please read this over and let me know if you understand it. Because you clearly didn’t before writing the review of Paul Hemphill’s “Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams.” Your review reads like a 10th grade book report (maybe 12th, but certainly better than Geo W’s eulogy for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, which was much closer to a 5th grade level). You had some eloquent sentences in there, retelling a story that I and most of my friends already know, GK. But you never told me why I should buy this book, as opposed to the other Hank Williams bios that are out there. Should I buy it because the author is from Alabama? Because that’s about the only thing you said in the “review” about the author. Should I buy it because Billboard said that Williams sings “with the spirit of a camp meeting”? Because you quote that in your review, but I don’t know how it pertains to THE BOOK. If I’m interested in how Williams sings, I’ll buy a CD. Even 5th graders know this simple sentence: I recommend this book highly. I remember using it all the time! You didn’t even allude to it! I can only assume you hated the book, but didn’t want to say so because you’re from Minnesota.
GK, I know this isn’t all your fault. Your attorneys no doubt forced you into the whole T-shirts fiasco, and you should have had a real editor helping you with your book report--I mean review. OK, it is your fault. Who is the prairie ho? The prairie ho is thee, my friend, the prairie ho is thee.