About that Keillor Bio…

Sam Anderson takes a stab at the Keillor psyche:

“It may be that Keillor is so allergic to Henri-Lévy’s love of paradox because, though he’d never acknowledge it, his own public image is deeply paradoxical. He’s a cosmopolitan provincial (he’s lived in Copenhagen and owns a multimillion-dollar apartment on Central Park West) and a sophisticated simpleton (a plainspoken yarn-spinner who just happens to write world-class prose). Once you start thinking about this—once Keillor’s trademark simplicity begins to look complicated and unnatural—the paradoxes start tumbling out like herrings out of the pickle-barrel: His plainness seems pretentious, his anti-bombast bombastic, his anti-snobbery snobbish. This sense of affectation is why some people instinctively dislike such a likable entertainer.”

This is the fascinating thing about Keillor – he was a small-town boy who yearned to write for the sophisticated, big-city New Yorker. And he made it – but he made it by bringing the small town with him to the big city. He’s at his best when he draws from that small-town ethos and sensibility – but there’s always a measure of self-consciousness about it. The artist’s distance?

Glad also to see that Anderson noticed that Keillor knows how to write. The Book of Guys has some bits that are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.


  1. This sense of affectation is why some people instinctively dislike such a likable entertainer.

    Maybe that’s it. I’ve mentioned when you’ve brought up Keillor before that I just don’t like him all that much. He is a good writer, and he is pretty funny, but still…

    Chesterton once said of the Stoics:

    Their dignity, their weariness, their sad external care for others, their incurable internal care for themselves, were all due to the Inner Light, and existed only by that dismal illumination. Notice that Marcus Aurelius insists, as such introspective moralists always do, upon small things done or undone; it is because he has not hate or love enough to make a moral revolution. He gets up early in the morning, just as our own aristocrats living the Simple Life get up early in the morning; because such altruism is much easier than stopping the games of the amphitheatre or giving the English people back their land. Marcus Aurelius is the most intolerable of human types. He is an unselfish egoist. An unselfish egoist is a man who has pride without the excuse of passion.

    Exactly the feeling I get when I listen to Keillor or read the New Yorker.

    Imagine Chesterton in a room together with Keillor. It would be hilarious. And, they would both be defenders of the ordinary life – Keillor because it is quiet and comfortable and unremarkable, but Chesterton because it is a grand, epic adventure with bright battle flags and dragons and heroes all over the place.

    Quite a difference.

  2. Matthew Lickona says

    You’re a sharp customer, but let me nit-pick on one score: Keillor does not suppose that ordinary life is comfortable, at least not in Lake Wobegon. Check Lake Wobegon Days – the heartbreak of poor old drunken Mr. Berge trying to romance the two young women who stop into the Sidetrack Tap. The war between a boy and his father as the boy tries to become his own man. The pathetic rage that sends a man out of his house forever – until he realizes that it’s winter, and he needs to go back inside for wool socks. He takes these small tragedies seriously. It ain’t epic, but it’s still got dragons.

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