Living With Limericks
By Garrison Keillor. (Prairie Home Productions, 175 pages, $17.99.)
You can almost hear Garrison Keillor snickering like a naughty schoolboy as you leaf through his latest book, “Living With Limericks,” featuring dozens of mildly saucy rhymes, too tame for Playboy, too raunchy for the New Yorker. His obsession with flatulence is so deep, you may want to ground him for a week.
But between acts of juvenile delinquency, the former “Prairie Home Companion” host waxes wistfully through poems and anecdotes about childhood memories, surgeries and growing old. In many ways, the collection serves as a sneak preview to the memoir he’s currently peddling to publishers.
He also bares his fangs, laying into everyone from Bob Dylan to local podcaster Nora McInerny, who wrote a scathing commentary about him for Time magazine shortly after he was accused of sexual misconduct. He never directly references the scandal, but he can be quite amusing while skirting at its hem.
“You’re a phenomenon and a national treasure,” he shares in a chapter about immortality. “And then the earth turns and you’re a guy spilling soup on his shirt.”
When he’s not playing the pity card, Keillor reminds us that he remains one of our most thoughtful wordsmiths — and a generous one. At one point, he offers some helpful tips on how you too can improve your writing, something Dylan would never do.
The Secrets We Kept
By Lara Prescott. (Knopf, 325 pages, $26.95.)
The dazzling prologue of “The Secrets We Kept” is a tough act to follow, but Lara Prescott pulls it off. Written in first-person plural, it’s from the perspective of women who toil in the secretarial pool at the CIA in the early 1950s. They tell us they are smarter and more skilled than the suits they work for and they close the prologue by asserting, “Unlike some of the men, we could keep our secrets.”
The plural chapters continue throughout the novel, but they’re interspersed with first-person accounts from several characters, including Irina, a Russian-American who quickly earns duties in addition to typing. Her job? Helping to smuggle into the U.S. a copy of Boris Pasternak’s unpublished “Doctor Zhivago,” which the CIA intends to get into the hands of as many Americans and Russians as possible.
Prescott (yes, she was named after the heroine of “Zhivago”) also includes chapters featuring Pasternak and the real-life inspiration for Lara and, although they’re involving, they’re not as strong as the voices of the secretaries, who we miss every moment “The Secrets We Kept” isn’t with them. Perhaps a sequel is in order, one where we find out what other secrets they’re keeping?