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Lewis: Main Street and Babbitt (Library of America) Hardcover – September 1, 1992


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Editorial Reviews

Review

I know of no American novel that more accurately presents the real America. -- H.L. Mencken

From the Publisher

The Library of America is an award-winning, nonprofit program dedicated to publishing America's best and most significant writing in handsome, enduring volumes, featuring authoritative texts. Hailed as "the most important book-publishing project in the nation's history" (Newsweek), this acclaimed series is restoring America's literary heritage in "the finest-looking, longest-lasting edition ever made" (New Republic).
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Product Details

  • Series: Library of America (Book 59)
  • Hardcover: 898 pages
  • Publisher: Library of America (September 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0940450615
  • ISBN-13: 978-0940450615
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #282,518 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sinclair Lewis was born in 1885 in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, and graduated from Yale University in 1908. His college career was interrupted by various part-time occupations, including a period working at the Helicon Home Colony, Upton Sinclair's socialist experiment in New Jersey. He worked for some years as a free lance editor and journalist, during which time he published several minor novels. But with the publication of Main Street (1920), which sold half a million copies, he achieved wide recognition. This was followed by the two novels considered by many to be his finest, Babbitt (1922) and Arrowsmith (1925), which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1926, but declined by Lewis. In 1930, following Elmer Gantry (1927) and Dodsworth (1929), Sinclair Lewis became the first American author to be awarded the Nobel Prize for distinction in world literature. This was the apogee of his literary career, and in the period from Ann Vickers (1933) to the posthumously published World So Wide (1951) Lewis wrote ten novels that reveal the progressive decline of his creative powers. From Main Street to Stockholm, a collection of his letters, was published in 1952, and The Man from Main Street, a collection of essays, in 1953. During his last years Sinclair Lewis wandered extensively in Europe, and after his death in Rome in 1951 his ashes were returned to his birthplace.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 10 customer reviews
Yes, the writing is very good if not great and the characters still do live, but their context is a memory.
Craig Matteson
This is such an essential part of the work that a glossary was necessary in European editions, and the book did much to make Europeans aware of American slang.
Bill R. Moore
If you only have time for one book by America's first Nobel Prize-winning author, I recommend that you select this one to read.
Randy Keehn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Randy Keehn VINE VOICE on March 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I read "Main Street" several years ago. It impressed me then and the memory of it has stayed with me. I had previously read "Babitt" and "Arrowsmith" which were both good novels but neither compared to "Main Street". Both previous novels poked fun at small town middle America. As a resident of North Dakota, I got a good chuckle over Lewis's portrayal of Arrowsmith's brief trip to our fair state. My recollections of "Babitt" are that it was rather satirical in its' imagery of a shallow well-to-do man. All of us could chuckle at him because he reminded us of so many people we knew. The impact of "Main Street", to me, is how we see the world through the eyes of the main character; the doctor's wife. She is a real person dealing with real observations about real people in a real community. Something in her clicks and says, "this is all too shallow, too plastic, too predetermined". We agree with her and yet feel somewhat uncomfortable in doing so because there is so much that she questions and much of it we have already accepted. I was extremely impressed with Lewis's portrayal of this feminine character and how he chose her (as opposed, for example, to her husband) to be the eyes of his reality. For that time and place, it was, I think, a bold move on the author's part. And it works! I remeber the impact of her questioning her relationship with her husband. It almost seemed like a scene out of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers".
This book was the one that made Lewis notorious in his own home town. I expected to have to appreciate the times to be able to appreciate the book. I found myself sensing issues and scenarios that are just as common and real today. If you only have time for one book by America's first Nobel Prize-winning author, I recommend that you select this one to read. You won't be sorry!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Craig Matteson HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
These two novels have changed their reason for importance since they were written. When new, they were very current. Full of fashionable slang, capturing the rising tide of America's urbanization, female independence, new machines, greater sexual license, and the pressures all this put on an agrarian culture. Now they capture memories of a time that seems more distant than it is. All of it seems so innocent and simple. Yes, the writing is very good if not great and the characters still do live, but their context is a memory.

Lewis' writing is certainly effective, memorable, and attractive. All reasons to keep reading him and enjoying the stories and thinking about what he has to say. I think what keeps him from being timeless is that it seems to be all about evoking a time and place. There is certainly nothing wrong in doing that; it is just that as the times change the writing may not survive being transplanted into the new context. I think it is a testament to the author's power that he is still read and lives in our present, even if his influence continues to diminish.

At the end of "Main Street" when Carol Kennicott says, "But I have won in this: I've never excused my failures by sneering at my aspirations, by pretending to have gone beyond them." I think we admire her. However, when she continues, "I do not admit that Main Street is as beautiful as it should be! I do not admit that Gopher Prairie is greater or more generous than Europe! I do not admit that dishwashing is enough to satisfy all women! I may not have fought the good fight, but I have kept the faith." any intended irony is made more strange by the added irony of history and cultural change since these words were written.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Relevance: a word often associated nowadays with a writer whom many (Mark Schorer's 1961 biography seems to blame) regarded as "the worst {American?} ever to win a Nobel." When some of us wonder if the political and cultural divisions that persist and morph in our nation have deeper roots than the newest pundit on Comedy Central or the newscast on Fox News, the radio left or right of the dial, here's one novelist who was reflecting on the American divide between heartland and coast, city and farm, hamlet and suburb, nearly a hundred years ago.

His two most famous novels, back-to-back bestsellers early in the 1920s, here are joined in a typically handy and handsome edition from the Library of America. Like many in this series, there's few notes. John Hersey finds a few arcane references we need to know, and there's a timeline of Lewis's life and a brief note on him, but the editorial policy appears to let the reader confront the text as much as possible. Neither of these two novels gained perhaps the long-standing media recognition of "Elmer Gantry" (Burt Lancaster's appeal may be credited!), but they provided us with "Babbitt" as a byword for small-city conformity, and "Main Street" as shorthand for small-town stultification. (Preacher "Elmer" along with "Dodsworth" the physician and "Arrowsmith" the auto manufacturer appear in a second LoA volume.)

Lewis's liberalism never's disguised, and part of the awkward tone if well-intended, bluntly persuasive charm of what are clearly propagandist pieces as well as entertainment. As a promoter of values I suspect are close to her creator, Carol Kennicott's decision to settle down in Gopher Prairie to try to inspire its stolid natives takes a long time to elaborate its ramifications for her and her neighbors.
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