Library Director’s Notebook
Over the past few months I’ve made a wonderful discovery. I’ve “discovered” recorded books! For years as a librarian I’ve been keenly aware of recorded books because so many library users have told me how much they love them. But somehow I never quite got around to listening to any of them, which is rather silly when I think about it. I have quite a long commute back and forth to work from Scituate to Barrington , and now that I’ve started using recorded books I can listen to a book both coming and going to work and double the number of books I can enjoy in any given week!
Just as with printed books, some recorded books are better than others. With recorded books there’s the added element of the reader’s voice which can sometimes be quite wonderful and other times merely acceptable. In the quite wonderful category I would have to include Garrison Keillor whose latest book Pontoon has been my most recent recorded book experience.
Keillor is of course well known for his public radio hit The Prairie Home Companion, and Keillor’s laconic baritone voice is recognizable almost anywhere.
In Pontoon he is in high form recounting the habits and foibles, loves and hates, adventures and misadventures of the redoubtable souls from Lake Woebegone, Minnesota where “ all the woman are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average”.
The book starts with the death of a woman named Evelyn Peterson who “was an insomniac so when they say she died in her sleep you have to question that.” For years Evelyn appeared to be the model Lake Woebegonian, helping out in countless church and community activities and appearing to lead a totally transparent, rather boring life. But as her daughter Barbara soon discovers , Evelyn led a secret life, had a secret lover, and very firm ideas about how she wanted to be disposed of after her death.
Barbara at first is totally stunned by the secrets her mother had kept from her, An alcoholic, divorced, protective mother who is having her own rather clandestine affair with a morbidly obese, barely verbal ,but tender hearted man named Oliver, Barbara can’t help but feel that life has dealt her an unlucky hand. Yet as she learns more about Evelyn’s private life and as she encounters the stiff resistance of her family and the townspeople to Evelyn’s plans for her memorial service, Barbara begins to feel that life might still hold some surprises, not all of them unpleasant. Constrained as she had always been to operate her life on the model of the obedient and self sacrificing daughter, Barbara begins to dare to think and even to act as if she has a choice.
Meanwhile a subplot thickens. Debbie Detmer, the town’s mystery girl who deserted her astonished parents as a teen and took off for California, daring to make a very strange life for herself, has returned to Lake Woebegone with plans for a wedding that will keep the good people of Lake Woebegone gossiping for weeks. As Pontoon comes hurtling towards its wild conclusion, naked parasailers, Elvis impersonators, drunken Danish Lutheran priests, hot air balloons, a green bowling ball, and two life-sized duck decoys will all find themselves on a possibly dangerous collision course.
This is a truly hilarious book that will make a perfect escape for lazy, summer days whether you read the printed version or listen to it on CD. But if you get the chance, I would recommend listening to Garrison Keillor read this book. I dare you not to laugh out loud even if you are, as I so often find myself, stuck in a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge!