Dear Ernest…

Dear Ernest,

Well, Janet finally convinced us to add one of your books to our book club reading list. No, not one of your novels, but your memoirs from living in Paris, A Moveable Feast. I didn’t realize that the book was finished and published after you died. And I thought it was pretty interesting that it was put together from manuscripts that were found long after your time in Paris living, working, drinking, gambling and hanging out with some of the greatest names in literature at that time. Not many people can say they were welcome to randomly stop by Gertrude Stein’s apartment or that they rode around the European countryside in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s car.

As I read about your time in Paris in the early 1920s, I thought about how your time as an ambulance driver in World War I and the injuries you suffered there might have affected your writing, and, well, your life in general. I imagine your experience had a profound impact on you and it seemed to show up in some of the melancholy and wistfulness of your tone. I wonder if I was the only one who observed sadness in your writing or if my other book club friends noticed it too. I guess I will just have to ask them when we meet today. And not to psychoanalyze you (since I have no training whatsoever), but I also theorize that your time in World War I (and reporting on The Spanish Civil War and World War II) shaped and affected you to such a degree that it probably played some role in the depression and alcoholism you suffered throughout your life, your failed marriages and your eventual suicide in 1961.

But I’ll spare you my judgment or any lectures (since I doubt you would care much anyway), and instead I’ll offer compassion for all of the hard times you experienced during your life. I’ll also thank you for leaving such a literary legacy. I can see why many people enjoy your direct, straightforward style that I am sure your journalistic endeavors helped you to hone.

Out of all of your writings, I’m glad our book club chose A Moveable Feast for our first experience with your work, especially since  part of your literary legacy includes inflicting quite a bit of pain and suffering on high school students, like my husband, who have been assigned The Old Man and the Sea for their high school English classes. Somehow, I think me telling you that would make you smirk a little bit. I had similar feelings about your friend F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, but we can talk about that another time.

Thank you for your contribution to literature that we get to read and discuss this month!

Sincerely yours,

Gwynne

P.S. I hope you are enjoying your current job in human resources. I am sure helping a young startup company is quite rewarding. 🙂

We hope you can join us to discuss A Moveable Feast this evening, Thursday, November 8 at 7 pm at Catherine’s house (let us know if you need directions).

Here are a few questions to think about for our discussion:

  1. What sort of letter would you write to Ernest Hemingway? A friendly letter, a thank you note, an invitation to dinner, a notice to sue for pain and suffering?
  2. What do you make of Hemingway’s remark in his Preface,”If the reader prefers, this may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.”? What is he saying? Is he suggesting little of none of his memoir is true? (Don’t worry if you’re not sure: no one is—the line is a bit of a puzzle.)
  3. Given his later renown and personal excesses (alcoholism, braggadocio and bluster, womanizing, meanness), what do you make of this young Hemingway? How would you describe him? Is he a likable? Admirable?
  4. What was the relationship between Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, as described in A Moveable Feast? Where do you see the fault lines of their marriage? What part did horse racing play? Some have surmised that Hadley was the one woman (wife) he truly loved. What happened?
  5. Talk about Hemingway’s depictions of the famous literary characters in his Paris circle of friends. Whom do you find most interesting? What does he say, for instance, about F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald? Some readers have found his observations (even his treatment) cruel; others see Hemingway as honest if acerbic. What do you think?
  6. Which episodes do you find particularly funny—perhaps the luncheon incident with Ford Madox Ford? Or Ezra Pound? Or the trip to Lyons with Fitzgerald?
  7. Writing from a distance of some 30 years, Hemingway paints a beauty, even glamour, in being poor and hungry…in Paris…at that moment. Why does this seem to have been such a happy time for him? What lends this work its twilight nostalgia?
  8. Have you read any of Hemingway’s novels or short stories (which some scholars consider his finest writing)? If so, does reading A Moveable Feast affect how you read his fiction? If you have not other Hemingway works, does this book inspire you to do so?

Thanks to Wikipedia for the biographical information and to litlovers.com for discussion questions 2-8!

Update: Dear Mr. Hemingway,
It has come to my attention that I may have caused considerable offense by addressing you as “Ernest” in my letter above, as several of my fellow book club members (who are more attentive readers than I) reminded me that you detest your given first name. Please accept my most sincere apology for this egregious oversight, and I hope this mistake will not cause you detest me any more than you already would have been predisposed to detest me.

Sincerely,

Gwynne

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Having Faith When Everything Has Changed

That was all. Nothing had changed. Mrs. Heemstra continued with her recipe for stretching the tea ration with rose leaves. And yet everything was changed. For in that instant, reality broke through the numbness that had grown in me since the invasion. At any minute, there might be a rap on this door. These children, this mother and father, might be ordered to the back of a truck.

Dr. Heemstra came back to the living room and the conversation rambled on. But under the words, a prayer was forming in my heart.

Lord Jesus, I offer myself for Your people. In any way. Any place. Any time. 

The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom

This passage from The Hiding Place marks a major turning point in Corrie ten Boom’s life–when nothing on the surface seems to have changed, but everything has. Shortly after she utters this prayer, Corrie becomes involved with the Dutch Resistance to the German occupation of Holland during World War II. The Hiding Place tells us a bit about Corrie’s early life but mainly focuses on her experiences during World War II. These events would go on to profoundly shape the rest of her life, in which she was known for being a prolific writer, speaker and evangelist and a model of what it looks like to practice true forgiveness.

I read The Hiding Place for the first time years ago, and one thing that I remember being struck by that first time, as well as now, is the significant role that her Christian faith played in her life and the lives of all of her family members. As you read the novel (or if you’ve finished all ready), consider all of the ways that faith in Christ influences people’s actions, decisions and responses to adversity. I think you will be impressed, too!

To get you ready for our discussion of The Hiding Place, here are some discussion questions, courtesy of the LitLovers website.

  1. Corrie’s father tells her that he pities the Nazi’s: “They have touched the apple of God’s eye.” What does he mean by that statement. Consider the strength of character it takes to feel pity for a people and a system that means to do harm to fellow beings.
  2. What are the various hiding places, real and symbolic, to which the title of this book refers? How, for instance, do fleas help lead to a “hiding place” for Corrie and Betsie while they are imprisoned?
  3. In addition to the extraordinary kindess and courage of the ten Boom family, what are some of the smaller acts of kindness shown by others in this memoir? Are people inspired to greater compassion, or less, in dire situations? What motivates acts of kindness—in other words, what makes people kind? What makes some people kinder than others?
  4. Talk about the kind of woman Corrire ten Boom and her sister Betsie were. What sustained them during their ordeal in the concentration camps? To what do you attribute Corrie’s courage and survival in the face of so much death and hardship?
  5. Stories like Corrie’s always beg comparison to ourselves and our own lives. We wonder how each of us would behave under similar horrific circumstances? How would you? What inner strengths and courage and compassion would you draw on? Would you have risked your life and the lives of your family (especially, if you have children) to help the Jews or any others subjected to brutal persecution? We know what we are called upon to do, but would many of us find the courage needed to do what is right?
  6. Comment on what Betsie said to Corrie: “I pray every day that we be allowed to do this! To show [the Nazis] that love is greater!” What do you find extraordinary in that statement?
  7. Talk about the incident after the war in which Corrie comes across one of the former SS men at Ravensbruck. How did she respond to him at first…and how did she change? What does this say about the principle of forgiveness—its difficulty and its healing power?
  8. What do you find most surprising…or inspiring in this account of the Nazi era? Did this book change you in any way? Did you come away having learned something…about history…about faith…or about yourself?

I hope you’re enjoying The Hiding Place, and we’re looking forward to seeing everyone for our discussion on Thursday, August 9 at Sheila’s house. The address is in the E-vite. If you didn’t receive it or if you need directions, please comment on this post, on our Facebook page, or get in touch with one of us personally, and we’ll be sure to help you get there.

Happy reading!

For Pondering as You’re “Walking” through “Nature”…

I hope everyone is ready for this Thursday as we discuss “Nature” by Ralph Waldo Emerson and “Walking” by Henry David Thoreau. I’ve put together a few questions to ponder as you “saunter” through these essays so you’re ready to discuss.

Here are a few questions about “Nature” that I found here:

  1. In Emerson’s view, how do adults and children view nature differently?
  2.  How do changing seasons affect nature lovers?
  3. What does Emerson mean when he states, “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit”? Do you agree with him; why or why not?
  4. What, do you think, is the difference between the meaning Emerson finds in nature and the meaning a scientist finds?

Here are a few questions about “Walking” that I fond here:

  1. What does Thoreau mean by the “art of Walking” and “sauntering”?
  2. Thoreau writes: “But possibly the day will come when it will be partitioned off into so-called pleasure grounds, in which a few will take a narrow and exclusive pleasure only,—when fences shall be multiplied, and man traps and other engines invented to confine men to the public road; and walking over the surface of God’s earth, shall be construed to mean trespassing on some gentleman’s grounds. To enjoy a thing exclusively is commonly to exclude yourself from the true enjoyment of it. Let us improve our opportunities then before the evil days come.”
    Are we living in the “evil days” that Thoreau predicted would come? Why or why not?
  3. Thoreau writes: “Yes; though you may think me perverse, if it were proposed to me to dwell in the neighborhood of the most beautiful garden that ever human art contrived, or else of a dismal swamp, I should certainly decide for the swamp. How vain then have been all your labors, citizens, for me!”
    What choice would you make and why?
  4. How would you describe Henry David Thoreau based upon this essay?

And here are a few that I thought of myself:

  1. Do you enjoy going out for walks? Where is your favorite place to walk and why? Do you prefer walking in an urban environment or out in nature?
  2. The authors of these essays become very philosophical when contemplating nature. Have you ever been out in nature and found your mind wandering in a similar way? What did you think about? For example, when I am out weeding my flower beds, I find myself contemplating sin and holiness. What say you all?
  3. Were these essays anything like you expected?
  4. Overall, what do you think of these Transcendentalists and their writings? Do you enjoy their style? Would you read other works by them or read these again?

As I mentioned above, our next meeting is this Thursday, July 12. We’ll be meeting at 7 pm at the Paradise Bakery and Café at Castleton Mall (please note the location change).

Happy reading (and happy sauntering) to you all!

A Book Picnic

Leas Miserables Book Club Picnic

Our June book club meeting took us back to Geist Park, where our book club began several years ago, for a picnic and our discussion of Les Misérables. After I had posted a few pictures from our June meeting to Facebook, one of my co-workers told me he would join our book club, but he was solely interested in the food. I can’t say that I blame him. The food was delicious.

Book Club Picnic Food

The décor was perfect for a summer picnic…

Book Club Picnic Decorations

And Sarah’s mason jar cheesecakes were a huge hit…

Mason Jar Cheesecakes

Quite a few of us attempted Les Misérables, some of us watched a film adaptation instead, and a few of us finished. One thing we realized is that all abridgements (and film adaptations, for that matter) are not created equal. The Barnes & Noble classic edition abridged by Laurence M. Porter that a couple of us had seemed to be the best at cutting out some of the lengthy passages that didn’t really contribute to the story (including about 15 chapters about the Battle of Waterloo). However, a couple of us had abridged editions that cut out so much, the story didn’t really make sense anymore. We spent a lot of the time filling in the gaps and recounting the story, talking about the characters of Jean Valjean, Fantine, Marius and Cosette as we went along. I think we all are looking forward to seeing how the new film adaptation of the musical that will be coming out in December will treat the story and how it will compare to the novel.

Book Club Group Photo

For July, we’re taking it a little easier and will be reading the (much shorter) essays “Nature” by Ralph Waldo Emerson and “Walking” by Henry David Thoreau. Hopefully the summer weather and warm sunshine will give you some inspiration to read these classics by two of the most famous naturalist authors. We will see you July 12 at 7 p.m. We will keep you posted on the location for this month, so watch for that information coming soon.

Happy reading!

That Book Is HUGE! (An Introduction to Les Misérables)

Undoubtedly they seemed very depraved, very corrupt, very vile, very hateful, even, but those are rare who fall without becoming degraded; there is a point, moreover, at which the unfortunate and the infamous are associated and confounded in a single word, a fatal word, Les Misérables; whose fault is it?

So far, this month’s book Les Misérables is way different from what I expected. And that is not a bad thing. I have to admit, that I was in no way familiar with the story line. When the Broadway musical was at the height of its popularity, I never saw it or heard more than a song or two from the soundtrack. I thought it was about the beginning of the French Revolution (wrong!), and the story is turning out to have way more suspenseful moments than I would have thought. I certainly didn’t expect a novel that would address so many themes. As Victor Hugo tells the story, his involvement in politics shows as he explores poverty, patriotism, justice, oppression, social justice, and redemption, among others.

One thing I did know, though, was that this book is HUGE! I received my copy for Christmas, and it looked like brick sitting under the tree with my copy of The Hiding Place that I also received as a gift.

Les Mis Comparison

My abridged version weighs in at a hefty 829 pages (and that is with pretty small print). I’m not usually intimidated by giant books (I count Gone with the Wind and it’s 1,037 are among some of my all-time favorites), but for some reason, this one seemed scary. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s abridged, or maybe it’s the French title. However once I’ve gotten deeper into the story, I would say it has been worth confronting my fear and diving into this novel. Perhaps you’ve had some similar fears of large novels, or maybe you tend to get bogged down when reading books of this kind of size. If so, I thought I would include some suggestions for reading big books, in particular, this one.

  1. There is no shame in reading the abridged version. Especially in the case of Les Misérables (see the page count I mentioned above). Hugo is a very descriptive writer, and he has a tendency to wax poetic for multiple chapters about topics like French society and the Battle of Waterloo. While brilliantly described, I am sure, these types of details aren’t really necessary to the backstory or moving along the plot. Judging from his critical essay included at the beginning of my edition of the book, the guy that did the abridgement was really smart, and I trust his judgment that what he decided to cut out (or summarize in an italicized paragraph) was probably OK to cut.
  2. Skim if necessary. As I mentioned before, Hugo is a very poetic author, so he often has very lengthy descriptions of scenes and characters. This helps create a very vivid visual picture, but in most cases these descriptions aren’t integral to the plot. If you get bogged down in the descriptive sections, go ahead and skim them so you have a basic idea of what is going on without getting stuck. If you miss a key detail, you can always go back.
  3. If it helps, take notes. There are a lot of characters in the novel, and some go by different names at different points in the story, so you might find it helpful to keep a list of who is who. Or you might want to make notes of key plot points.
  4. Make use of SparkNotes (or something similar). Les Misérables follows several main characters whose stories all overlap. You might find it helpful to look at SparkNotes or another outside resource for the plot summary after you read a chapter to make sure you didn’t miss anything important. If it is easier for you to read a book when you to know where the story is going, read ahead in the plot summary, or you might find it helpful to use the information to do your own “abridging” to skip some of the more flowery sections and jump ahead to where the action picks up.
  5. Give it a fair chance. Personally, I find that with a lot of books, it takes a few chapters or more to really get a feel for the author’s writing style, some of the characters and the overall “feel” of the book. Some of books take quite a bit of time (and pages) to set the stage and the scene before they really pick up. Les Misérables definitely falls into this category. Hugo takes great care to introduce you to the setting and his characters, which may seem tedious at times. Hopefully if you find it tedious, you can find some appreciation for his gift of description. This gift carries into the more action-oriented sequences of the novel, which makes him a master at building tension and suspense.

How about you? Have you found the book to be what you expected? Do you have any tips for reading this, and other large novels? I hope you give Les Misérables a fair chance and come and join us on June 14 at 7 p.m. for our discussion and Summer Picnic at Geist Park.

Happy Reading!

Never Underestimate a Young Reader: About Madeleine L’Engle

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
– Madeleine L’Engle

Madeleine L’Engle was born in 1918 in New York City. She wrote her first story when she was 5 and began keeping a journal when she was 8. Despite her prowess in writing, she was not a good student. Her family traveled a lot and even lived by the French Alps for a while, and she received most of her education in various boarding schools. Madeleine went on to study English at Smith College from 1937-1941, where she graduated with honors.

After graduation, Madeleine worked in the theater in New York and wrote on the side. During her time in theater, she met actor Hugh Franklin, whom she married in 1946. They moved to the country for a while and ran a general store before returning to New York. L’Engle worked at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine where she was the librarian and writer-in-residence and had an office for more than 30 years.

From the 1960s through the 1980s L’Engle wrote dozens of books for both children and adults. Her most famous novel is our book for this month, A Wrinkle in Time, which was published in 1962 and turns 50 years old this year. The book was very close to never being published, as it received numerous rejections. Publishers complained that that the plot seemed too complicated for children. They didn’t like the mixture of science fiction and philosophy, and science fiction didn’t typically feature female protagonists. It was finally bought by the publishing company Farrar, Straus and Giroux. When an outside reader didn’t like the book, the editor admitted that it was “distinctly odd” but defended it by saying, “I for one believe that the capabilities of young readers are greatly underestimated.” (You can find out more about the story behind the publishing of A Wrinkle in Time in this NPR story.)

L’Engle’s editor turned out to be right. A Wrinkle in Time was an immediate success,  became a bestseller, won the prestigious Newbery Medal in 1963, and has continued to be beloved by generations of readers. L’Engle’s insistence on writing a book that doesn’t talk down to kids or underestimate them is part of the reason why the novel still speaks to kids today.

If you want a little more of a glimpse into what Madeleine L’Engle was like, look no further than A Wrinkle in Time’s Meg Murry, since L’Engle wrote a lot of herself into the character.  And you can also find out more on the official Madeleine L’Engle website, which also has links to a number of articles celebrating the 50th anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time.

We hope you’ve been enjoying A Wrinkle in Time and that you can come discuss it with us this Thursday, May 10 at 7 p.m. at Paradise Bakery and Café at Hamilton Town Center. Remember that since this  month is our young reader book, any girls who have read the book are welcome to join us, too!

Happy Reading!

To Get You Ready for a Tea Party Conversation…

20090920 Tongli Imgp5761
By Jakub Hałun (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I have to admit, that I wasn’t sure what to think when I started reading The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. I certainly wasn’t very familiar with the ins and outs of Chinese culture, let alone the culture of Pre-Revolutionary rural China, but it didn’t take long for me to get drawn in by the story of Wang Lung, O-Lan and their family. Their trials and successes as they go through times of prosperity and famine also teach timeless lessons that we can apply to our lives today.

As you ponder that last statement here are some questions to get you ready for our discussion on Thursday. Most of these are taken or adapted from the discussion questions in the back of Sarah J.’s book (with a couple of my own thrown in).

  1. Describe Wang Lung’s expectations of his impending marriage at the beginning of the book. How does his marriage turn out in reality? How do Wang Lung’s expectations of marriage compare to the expectations of marriage in Western cultures?
  2. Why does Wang Lung feel compelled to purchase the rice field from the House of Hwang? Why does he at first regret it?
  3. Wang Lung considers the birth of his daughter to be a bad omen. How does he come to regard this girl, who grows up to be a “fool”?
  4. As the family works and begs in the city, what do they think of the foreigners they encounter? What purpose does the author serve in including these descriptions?
  5. When Wang Lung becomes swept up in the mob and enters the rich man’s house, is the gold he receives there a curse or a blessing? Do you feel any pity for the rich man?
  6. After O-Lan steals the jewels, do they function as a bad omen or good luck? Why does she want to keep the two pearls? Why is Wang Lung so astonished by this?
  7. As O-Lan dies, she bemoans her lack of beauty and says she is too ugly to be loved. Wang Lung feels guilty, but still cannot love her as he did Lotus. Neither woman can control destiny. Lotus was an orphan who had been sold into prostitution because she was beautiful, and O-Lan had been sold as a kitchen slave because she was plain. For whom do you feel sympathy? Why?
  8. Describe Wang Lung’s relationship with the House of Hwang throughout the novel. In the end, does he end up better off than they did?
  9. How does Wang Lung’s religious faith change throughout the novel? Do you see any parallels with the way people experience the Christian faith?
  10. Pearl S. Buck wrote a first-person novel from the point of view of a Chinese man, which was controversial because she was of a different culture. How might this book have been different if it had been written by a Chinese person?
If you haven’t gotten to the end of The Good Earth, you still have a few days to finish this intriguing novel. We’ll see you this Thursday, April 12 at 7 p.m. At Sarah R.’s house for our discussion and our annual tea partySend us a message or leave a comment if you need directions, and we’ll make sure to let you know how to get there.

See you Thursday! Until then, happy reading!

Our Discussion of Emma (and Some Kids’ Books Too)

Hands holding copies of Emma

Another Jane Austen book, another fun book club discussion night. This month we all read Emma and the answer to the question of “Do you like her?” was a mixed bag.

Emma Book Covers

We had a mixed bag of covers for this book, as well. We also had a couple of people who listened to the audiobook and one who read an e-book version.

Most of us thought Jane Austen had created one of her more unlikeable characters for the heroine, but we agreed that Emma Woodhouse seemed to come around in the end. As far as the book itself, the reactions mainly seemed to fall into two camps: either we really liked the story and would name it among our favorite Jane Austen books, or we just had a hard time getting into the story.

After discussing some of the ridiculous characters in the novel (Mrs. Elton and her request to ride donkeys to the party at Mr. Knightley’s house taking the cake), going through through our list of discussion questions, and choosing some conversation starters from the Table Topics cards (Most thought-provoking: If the book was a dream, what do you think it would signify?), we somehow got on the topic of some of our favorite books from when we were children. There were lots of books we had read in common, and some we sort of remembered but couldn’t recall the titles. If you can help us identify a book at about a fifth or sixth grade reading level with kids who could stop time that had a scene where they stop a dog from attacking them that might have contained some questionable language that a teacher reading it aloud would have skipped over or changed, Sarah would really like to know what it is.

Discussing Jane AustensEmma

We hope you can join us for our April 12 meeting! We’ll be reading and discussing The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (among other subjects, I’m sure) and having a delightful tea party at Sarah’s house. We’ll keep you posted on the details.

Happy reading!

Emma: Do YOU like her?

Title Page from Emma

Title Page from Emma

Before her novel Emma was published, Jane Austen said about the title character, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” Emma Woodhouse is “handsome, clever and rich,” but also has tendencies toward being selfish, spoiled, snobby and meddlesome. The real trouble begins when Emma decides she is going to try her hand at matchmaking, taking the very naive Harriet Smith on as a project of sorts in order to bring Harriet into higher society and find her a husband.

While Emma schemes and goes about her daily life in the small village of Highbury, it is the interesting cast that brings life to the novel, and this work of Austen’s seems to have one of the largest assortments of quirky characters:

  • Emma’s father, Mr. Woodhouse, who is very fragile in health and always seems to think the health of others is every bit as fragile as his own and that they should follow his habits.
  • Harriet Smith, who is impressionable and flighty and will do anything for Emma’s approval.
  • Mr. Elton, who is a master at schmoozing and turns out to be a social climber.
  • Mrs. Elton (formerly Miss Hawkins), whom Mr. Elton marries to achieve higher social standing. Although she has money, she has horrible manners.
  • Miss Bates, who is an incessant talker.
  • Frank Churchill, who is an “auntie’s boy.”

And then there’s Emma herself. She’s very concerned about people’s rank in society, she schemes to get her way, and she has decided that she doesn’t like Jane Fairfax for what seems like no good reason. Although she has her faults, in some ways, she is like Scarlett O’Hara, where you can’t help but root for her throughout the book.

So, as you’re reading though Emma, who do you think is the quirkiest character so far? What do you think of Emma? Do you like her, or do you think Jane Austen was right?

Hope you can join us for our discussion of Jane Austen’s Emma on March 8 at 7 p.m. We’ll keep you posted on the location. Happy reading!

Garrison Keillor, that guy your parents think is funny

Garrison Keillor

Photo from the WikiMedia Commons: Copyright Prairie Home Productions

Garrison (whose real name is actually Gary) Keillor was born in 1942, and he is described as being an “American author, storyteller, humorist and radio personality. His biggest claim to fame is serving as the host of the popular public radio program “A Prairie Home Companion.”

I have memories of riding in the backseat of the car while my family was traveling listening to “A Prairie Home Companion.” I didn’t always get the humor (some things were more funny to a little kid than others), but I always enjoyed listening to Keillor’s storytelling ability (especially during the private eye skits) and hearing the tales of that the fictional town of Lake Wobegone, Minnesota, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” At any rate, my parents thought he was hilarious.

Keillor grew up in the town of Anoka, Minnesota, which in many ways was the inspiration for Lake Wobegone, and graduated from the University of Minnesota. While there, he began his broadcasting career on the student-run radio station that is known today as Radio K. Keillor went on to host a morning radio show on the Minnesota public radio station and also began writing fiction for The New Yorker. Keillor resigned from the morning program for a short time, citing creative differences over musical selection, but returned later that year, and the show was called “A Prairie Home Companion” upon his return.

The show did its first evening broadcast on July 6, 1974 with variety show style in front of a live audience. In addition to his popularity as a radio personality, Keillor has written articles for newspapers and magazines as well as books for children and adults. He’s done voiceover work for commercials and the Ken Burns documentaries The Civil War and Baseball, and he wrote the screenplay for the film, A Prairie Home Companion. In November of 2006, he also opened a bookstore called Common Good Books, G. Keillor, Prop. in St. Paul Minnesota. Keillor has had a long and eclectic career in the broadcasting and writing world, and with 4 million people listening to A Prairie Home Companion each week on more than 600 public radio stations, it’s still going strong.

We’ll be getting together on Thursday, February 9 at 7 p.m. at Paradise Bakery and Café at Hamilton Town Center to discuss Happy to Be Here. Whether you have fond memories of “A Prairie Home Companion” and appreciate Keillor’s style, or can’t understand why your parents think he’s so funny, it’s sure to be a lively discussion. We hope you can join us!

In the meantime: What have you thought of the book and Keillor’s style so far? Have you ever listened to “A Prairie Home Companion,” and if so, what did you think?