This is a cautionary tale about the importance of editing.
It starts, though, with a monologue about a famed writer named Garrison Keillor, who spins tales about a little town that time forgot, out the edge of the Minnesota prairie, who cut his teeth on The New Yorker and found his voice in episodic humor that played as well in print as it did on the radio, in the style of a good campfire yarn, who once left his native Minnesota but found that Minnesota was such an essential part of himself and his writing that he had no choice but to embrace the land where he grew up and to restart his radio show and revive the Tollefsons and the Bunsens and the Kresbachs, the Norwegian bachelor farmers and all the strong men, the good-looking women and the above-average children who attend Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility church, play for the Whippets, buy their food at Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery, read Harold Star’s Herald Star, and eat frequently at the Chatterbox Café, who has been compared to Mark Twain, that grand humorist in the ice cream suit whom Keillor doesn’t emulate in dress – preferring instead jackets, collarless shirts and red sneakers – but does emulate in style as he pokes fun at fat cats and lowlifes but also the ordinary people and their ordinary lives he writes and speaks about so provocatively but who apparently, when given the chance in The New York Times Book Review, decided to ramble on and on in a 145-word sentence that can only be described as self-indulgent pap.
Where was I? Oh, yes, I said this was a tale about the importance of editing. I suppose I should get on to that. A 254-word sentence does tend to gnaw at one’s brain. I don’t think I’ve ever done that. It seems to be making me queasy, so give me a minute.
There. I think I can continue now.
As an editor, I urge writers to take chances. Don’t be afraid to try things, to break the rules when necessary, I tell them. I cut them a lot of slack. I’m not afraid of the unconventional.
I also reel them in when they founder.
I can only guess that the editors of the Times Book Review were either afraid to confront Keillor or were blinded by his fame. So the emperor was allowed to parade naked through the Book Review, creating a garish spectacle that had no place in print.
The sight was so abominable that it stopped me cold. I couldn’t read beyond the 145-word sentence, couldn’t read about the Harry Belafonte book Keillor was reviewing, couldn’t bring myself to read anything else in the Book Review.
I had to close the pages of the Sunday Times and ponder the question that loomed over the Book Review like an eclipse on Easter Sunday at Lake Wobegon.
Where were the editors?