Internally, executives at American Public Media, the nonprofit that produces and distributes “A Prairie Home Companion,” liken Thile’s ascent to Jimmy Fallon’s taking Jay Leno’s seat. The comparison sells short the jarring nature of the shift. Leno didn’t conceive of “The Tonight Show” or write most of the jokes himself, as is the case with Keillor and “Prairie Home.” More peculiar still, Thile is not a writer-raconteur in the mode of Keillor, but a musician, and one who prefers technical, challenging terrain.
The transition brings with it more than one existential question — whether “A Prairie Home Companion” can possibly go on without Garrison Keillor’s voice, and whether there’s even a place for such a show in modern America. Thile’s motivations also seem curious. He spent this summer touring Australia and Japan and curating a sold-out series of concerts at Washington’s Kennedy Center. He has a choir. Why preach to Keillor’s?
Every year since 1982, an event known as Banned Books Week has brought attention to literary works frequently challenged by parents, schools, and libraries. The books in question sometimes feature scenes of violence or offensive language; sometimes they’re opposed for religious reasons (as in the case of both Harry Potter and the Bible). But one unfortunate outcome is that 52 percent of the books challenged or banned in the last 10 years feature so-called “diverse content”—that is, they explore issues such as race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, mental illness, and disability. As a result, the organizers of Banned Books Week, which started Sunday, chose the theme “Celebrating Diversity” for 2016.
Since the inception of the American children’s literature industry in the 1820s, publishers have had to grapple with the question of who their primary audience should be. Do kids’ books cater to parents and adult cultural gatekeepers, or to young readers themselves? But as books that address issues of diversity face a growing number of challenges, the related question of which children both the industry and educators should serve has become more prominent recently. Who benefits when Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian, which deals with racism, poverty, and disability, is banned for language and “anti-Christian content”? Who’s hurt when Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings’s picture book I Am Jazz, about a transgender girl, is banned? The history of children’s book publishing in America offers insight into the ways in which traditional attitudes about “appropriate” stories often end up marginalizing the lives and experiences of many young readers, rather than protecting them.
Even though there is a notable weakness in End of Watch because of these constant and seemingly clunky coincidences, and despite its heavy metatextual dependence upon familiarity with King’s earlier writings, the novel nonetheless stands up as an enjoyable read. As the end of this trilogy, everything is wrapped up neatly, and the Constant Reader will not be spending his or her time burning impatiently for more tales focused on Bill Hodges. The story is done, the good guys win (mostly), and while King may have become enslaved by a fixation on time, one cannot completely consider this work as a contrived and overly manipulated story; it is a narrative that may offer little supernatural magic, but there is something magical about looking back on the events of a life — whether real or fictional — and seeing just how beautifully everything comes together (for better or for worse).
As a general cultural survey, “Time Travel” illustrates a powerful longing for escapism — from death, from our humdrum fates. So long as we perceive time the way we do, literary dreams and scientific studies of time travel are here to stay.