100 Novels: An Epigraph to Remember or A Donut for My Thoughts


Saturday I woke up early, around 8 a.m., made coffee, as is my usual routine, and then began reading Garrison Keillor‘s WLT: A Radio Romance.

The novel’s epigraph comes from Walden:

I learned this at least by my experience: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live that life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put  some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.

The epigraph distracted me for a minute because of the phrase “advances confidently”. Shaken confidence has of late been a culprit barring me from my dreams as much as anything beyond me. What does it mean to advance advance confidently? What are my dreams? Are they just castles in the air?

I set the thought aside, though, and went on to begin the novel — so far proving a worthwhile read. If you’re familiar with Keillor’s radio program A Prairie Home Companion, this novel is a bit less genteel. Plus there is a fart joke early on. Can’t really have great literature without fart jokes. Chaucer. Joyce. 

There’s much that seems prophetic as Keillor explores the early days of radio and hints at the medium’s decline when TV comes along. Video killed the radio star. It reminds me of the current state of print and even broadcast news as it deals with and declines to this amorphous beast, the Internet.

An hour after I started the novel, I set it aside because my stomach was craving breakfast. Made my wife happy when I headed out to Shipley’s Donuts. Mmmm, donuts . . . In the drive-thru, the novel’s epigraph came back to me: this one passage is the foundation of all the self-help books I’ve been reading over the past two years. Their premises could be summarized thusly:

  • Be confident
  • Define your dreams
  • Plan accordingly
  • Set goals, laying the foundations of the dreams so they may not turn to castles in the air

There it is: Henry David Thoreau,self-help guru.

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