Life Among the Lutherans, by Garrison Keillor, Holly Harden (ed.) *****

Garrison Keillor is one of the funniest men alive. Most people who follow his work do so from his Prairie Home Companion, a show carried on NPR and at least for a time, also on the Disney cable channel in the USA.

But obviously, he writes, and he does it a lot; there is quite a bit of overlap between his radio bits and what he publishes. Usually his best work doesn’t stray too far from that track.

This little gem is a case in point. Each little chapter (3-5 pp. each generally) is almost certainly one of his monologues, and they are worth purchasing. Some of us are better at appreciating his work in print, anyway. This compact volume moves, as is typical of the writer, between gut-splittingly funny, to wry, to poignant. He is able to blend these in a bittersweet way nobody else I can think of does.

The first three selections are among the most hysterical. A convention of Lutheran ministers comes to Lake Wobegon; I won’t give you more than that, it would ruin it. I love his Norwegian bachelors, the herdsmen, and at one point, I looked at my husband, who is a Japanese citizen, and realized that in his reticence and solitude, he just could be a closet Norwegian, and maybe also a closet Lutheran. After all, as Keillor points out, a lot of Lutherans don’t really believe in a god, but it’s awkward to come out and admit it.

If you are a very serious-minded Lutheran, this book may offend you. If you are completely new to Keillor, just be aware that he isn’t truly reverent about very much.

But for his fans, and of course I am one, that’s where his genius lies.

Liberty, by Garrison Keillor *****

LibertyKeillor is best known for his radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, on NPR. I have read many reviewers (not from the mainstream media, but amateurs like me, who review on amazon and goodreads) who insist that Keillor is only funny when he delivers the lines himself, and that once you put his work in print, the humor is lost.

Nonsense!

I like reading Keillor’s novels, though the collections of quirky philosophy and bits of his radio work set in print are worth a gander as well. This one is set in the home town he has made known to many of us. (If you haven’t read or heard anything by Keillor, you may still enjoy it, but I recommend reading his classic material first. Lake Wobegon Days is a nice launch-point). In some places it is dry and droll; at other times, I found myself doubled over and gasping for breath. And to be frank, I am not that easily amused.

In fact, I laughed out loud on the first page. People often say, and tritely so, “I couldn’t put it down”, and what they mean sometimes is that they read it often until it was done, and they really enjoyed it. But I genuinely never put this book down unless it was strictly necessary. It was an awesome weekend. I was recovering from surgery and had to be sedentary, and this cheered me up considerably. It is not poignant in the way the L.W.D. is; this is just plain FUNNY. It hit my funny bone from a sort of blind spot and then kept rolling.

Life is serious business, and most of us just don’t laugh often enough. Studies show that laughter actually helps us live longer. But if you get this book and laugh your way to a massive MI, and the last thing you remember is something this hilarious, I still say it’s the best way to go out.

Get the book right away; the Fourth is just around the corner!