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In Cheerfulness, veteran radio host and author Garrison Keillor reflects on a simple virtue that can help us in this stressful and sometimes gloomy era. Drawing on personal anecdotes from his young adulthood into his eighties, Keillor sheds light on the immense good that can come from a deliberate work ethic and a buoyant demeanor. "Adopting cheerfulness as a strategy does not mean closing your eyes to evil," he tells us; "it means resisting our drift toward compulsive dread and despond." Funny, poignant, thought-provoking, and whimsical, this is a book that will inspire you to choose cheerfulness in your daily life.
Humorist and author Keillor (Serenity at 70, Gaiety at 80) delves into the different faces of positivity and “the great American virtue” of cheerfulness in this playful and resolutely upbeat offering. Though lighthearted, this spirited celebration of a sunny disposition takes on monumental issues, albeit in a jaunty, tongue-in-cheek way; Keillor, that self-described “writer of homely tropes and truisms,” juxtaposes the everyday mechanics of being 80 years old with a sobering look at what his future may hold. Dead-serious themes of aging and death pop up throughout, but Keillor plumbs them for humor and insight in his customary style, an approach that will of course please A Prairie Home Companion devotees but also buoy the spirits of readers who feast on wordplay, witticism, and squeezing the best out of life.

Cheerfulness saunters through Keillor’s daily routines and sifts through past recollections, even those that bring pain with the remembering. He touches on the fallout from Minnesota Public Radio cutting ties with him in 2018—it was “oddly liberating to be canceled,” in his words—and recalls the death by suicide as an adult of a childhood girlfriend, a tragedy that still leaves him breathless. His willingness to examine aging under the microscope is laudable, as he explores the feelings of obscurity that come with growing older and especially the change in status that comes with aging in America (once you’re past 70, he writes, you become ”a waste of good shelf space”).

But, as the title suggests, good cheer prevails. The more touching moments involve Keillor’s deep devotion to his wife and his musings on the lucky breaks he’s had throughout life—including the wonders of modern medicine that have gifted him longevity in spite of an inherited heart condition. His gratitude is often expressed through his spirituality, and his desire for meaning in his later years is palpable, as is his encouragement to fully embrace life. In his own words, “You’ll never get a life if you wait until you’re ready.”

Takeaway: Upbeat but clear-eyed look at aging and gratitude, with tongue in cheek.

Comparable Titles: Michael Kinsley’s Old Age, Jamie Varon’s Radically Content.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A