Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

 Sept. 23, 2002

Let's hear it for 'Prairie Home Companion'

Garrison Keillor is a naked liberal, but a lot of conservative Republicans enjoy his show and his monologues.

I was at one of his shows once. The program had already started, but the laid-back staff told me just to go in and sit down in one of the aisles. All the seats were taken and it was free.

There were babies crying in the audience and people coming and going in the aisles. Up on stage, the show went on.

There was an old Pepsi-Cola clock onstage to keep track of the timing. There were no engineers in a fancy booth counting down, 10-9-8-7-6.

I was amazed to discover he doesn't read from a script. He recites his "It's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon . . ." with just himself and the microphone. "Working without a net," they call it in show business.

His daily "Writer's Almanac" on National Public Radio is a delight for me. It begins my day just right.

There is no doubt about it that Garrison Keillor is the number one pride and joy of Minnesota. He is the first person mentioned, even before our (ugh!) Governor Ventura, when you meet a stranger and tell him you are from Minnesota.

I think his best broadcast ever was from a white clapboard country Lutheran church out on the prairie in the middle of nowhere, just as a blizzard was arriving and people were driving up to the church for the broadcast.

Garrison asked the farmer congregation to read their favorite Psalm, and one after another, they did so, in their Minnesota voices. For some reason, I cried and cried that day.

He had made me laugh many times, but not that day as I remembered. And then I went and got my Bible.

A tough guy I know from Grand Forks, N.D. told me that he got weepy himself one time when Garrison had broadcast live from Grand Forks with an overflow studio audience.

He said that with all the national and international reporting and analysis about the floods that had destroyed Grand Forks, Garrison had captured it best of all.

He told of stories of heroism, the ability of the community to pull together, all of the emotions of the time. He told of the Minnesotans across the river who took in the refugees, and the gas stations and restaurants who wouldn't charge them for gas or for meals.

In the language of show business, my friend said Garrison Keillor "had nailed it," even though my friend is still a hard-nosed conservative who listens to Rush Limbaugh.

The book club

The latest news from Lake Wobegon is that Garrison is starting his own book club. Let's hope he doesn't let us down by offering "Lake Wobegon Days" as his first selection.

In the spirit of "monkey see, monkey do," I want to start a book club for The Waverly Star.

On my list for the month of September are: "Gulliver's Travels" by Jonathon Swift, published in 1726, "Emma" by Jane Austen (1816), "Oliver Twist" by Charles Dickens (1837), "Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy (1873), and "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte (1847).

All of them are available in the Howard Lake Public Library and all of them are great reads, as they say. I wish that when I was in high school, someone had told me that "Moby Dick" was a helluva good story instead of making it sound like it was a duty to read it like it was just another chore for school, like clapping the erasers.

Patrick O'Brian, a British writer, has taken up where Melville left off with his sea stories, but without "Moby Dick," I never would have discovered him.

Read anything by Patrick O'Brian and get ready to stay up all night.

Below are quotes from two of the classics I have in my first book club selection. I am not charging for this, and neither is the Howard Lake Public Library, unless you keep the books beyond two weeks.

I may be a hypocrite, but I am no capitalist. I am simply referring you to the Howard Lake Public Library - your tax money at work.

Buying a book is about as dumb as buying a lottery ticket when you can get all the books you will ever want for free at the library.

Free samples

Here's the beginning of chapter 23 of "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte (477 pp., published in 1847).

"A splendid midsummer shone over England: skies so pure, suns so radiant as were seldom seen in long succession, seldom favour, even singly, our wave girt land.

"It was as if a band of Italian days had come from the south, like a flock of glorious passenger birds, and lighted to rest themselves on the cliffs of Albion.

"The hay was all got in; the fields around Thornfield were green and shorn; the roads white and baked; the trees were in their dark prime; hedge and wood, full leaved and deeply tinted, contrasted well with the sunny hue of the cleared meadows between."

(Note for understanding the plot: Charlotte and her sister Emily were old maids, but they had marvelous imaginations. This novel is so good that they have made three movies out of it. Note the reference to the passenger pigeon, which became extinct as a species in 1884. The last passenger pigeon, once so numerous as to blot out the skies, was named Martha and died in the Cincinnati zoo in 1904.)

Now here is the very first paragraph of "Emma" by Jane Austen, published in 1816.

"Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to enjoy some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly 21 years in the world with very little to distress or vex her."

(Hint for understanding the story line: Jane Austen never married, but there is something wonderfully vicarious going on in this great novel. What a good story!)

I hope to keep this book club going. The staff at the Howard Lake Public Library told me they would welcome a plug from me, and people from Waverly are all entitled to library cards.

There are too many books out there (millions!) for me to select.

Please send in some nominations for next month's recommendations and I will print them, I promise. (That is, if the creeks don't rise like they just done down here in Corpus Christi. Stop praying for rain, dammit!)

Jim O'Leary
461 Claremore
Corpus Christi, Texas 78412
(361) 992-2618

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