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May 19, 2008

Pontifications and books 11, 12, and 13

Filed under: 150 Best Minnesota Books — Lori Williamson @ 10:09 am

Pat’s Pontification # 1: If you are a Minnesota writer who makes the cover of Time magazine (for your writing, Jesse, for your writing), you have to be on the 150 Best Books list. If Time confers two covers on you, you get two books on the list.time-lewis.jpgtime-lewis-2.jpgtime-garrison.jpg

So let’s add three books using this foolproof method of choosing Minnesota’s best books.

Sinclair Lewis. Main Street: The Story of Carol Kennicott. New York: 1920.
Sinclair Lewis. Babbitt. New Yor
k: 1922.
Garrison Keillor. Lake Wobegon Days. New York: 1985.

Lewis is the 600-pound gorilla of Minnesota literature. Try as you might to ignore him, he is going to have to be dealt with. And for good reason! He is still relevant and still a good read, which is not something you can say about most 88-year-old American literature. If you read Lewis in school I would encourage you to reread him. Like Huck Finn, these books change significantly each decade of your life. Main Street was taught as a novel about the small mindedness of small towns but it is, perhaps more importantly, the first feminist novel. Carol asks, in chapter 16, “What is it we want – and need? … I think perhaps we want a more conscious life. We’re tired of drudging and sleeping and dying. We’re tired of seeing just a few people able to be individualists.”

My only difficulty here was whether to list Lewis’s canonical works or my favorites. Personally I love Lewis’s worst book, Mantrap, where an effete Eastern lawyer goes to the north woods for adventure that ends in a canoe chase through a burning forest. Fabulous! I also love It Can’t Happen Here, Lewis’s most political novel about fascism coming to America. But then there is Pat’s Pontification #2: when Hollywood thinks you are culturally iconic enough to make your Minnesota novel into a film three times, as is the case for Babbitt, your book automatically makes this list.

Just down the road [15.21 miles to be exact] from Gopher Prairie is, of course, Lake Wobegone. With a deft and lighter hand Keillor updates Lewis’s cultural criticism and re-presents Minnesota to the world. Touted by Time as the new Mark Twain, I think of Keillor as the new Sinclair Lewis.

Please allow me one more pontification while I’m on a roll. PP#3: When a book spawns published parodies, it is a good indication that the author has struck a significant nerve and the book should be considered for the Best 150 list. Come into the MHS library and read parodies of all three of these titles. They are Ptomaine Street; The Triumph of the Nut, a 1923 book containing a parody of Babbitt; and Fascist Home Companion.


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9 Responses to “Pontifications and books 11, 12, and 13”

  1. LW Says:

    Okay, but given limited time, which do you reread first…Main Street or Babbitt?

  2. Patrick Coleman Says:

    “Dodsworth”. No “Cass..” No better read “Main Street”. Oh this is hard. I really love Lewis.

  3. Heidi Says:

    “The Triumph of the Nut” sounds interesting; I imagine a colony of squirrels defending itself from some evil force by flinging nuts in its direction. Clearly this has nothing to do with the parody collection of the same name, but I wish it did.
    I have never read “Main Street” – admittedly a huge gap in my literary knowledge. I will have to get on that.

  4. Patrick Coleman Says:

    You have never read Sinclair Lewis’s “Main Street”? Really Heidi? Didn’t you teach English? Did you lie on your resume? Did they hire you because you had read everything else by Sinclair Lewis and simply missed “Main Street”? Excuse me for being such a snotty sob but one of my very very few pet peeves is that we no longer force kids to read “Main Street” in school. What is next? No “Gatsby”? It pains me to see Lewis’s image of America fade from our collective cultural knowledge.

  5. LW Says:

    Don’t pick on Heidi…it was your alma mater that didn’t give us the opportunity to read “Main Street” while we were yet young.

  6. Patrick Coleman Says:

    They don’t call it Cretin for nothin’. I had a professor there named “Bubs” Boland. He was the greatest! He had us read Rolvaag, Lewis, Fitz, Dreisr, and Dostoevski.

  7. Ulster Says:

    Of “Main Street” Lewis said “Some hundreds of thousands read the book with the same masochistic pleasure that one has in sucking an aching tooth”. Make you wanna run out and buy a copy?

  8. Patrick Coleman Says:

    Self aware Sinclair. This wonderful quote may not make me want to run out and buy a copy of Main Street but it does make me want to begin a Hall of Fame for Minnesota author’s quotes. Especially quotes about their own work. Feel free, dear readers, to send any memorable quotes you discover into our list. I’ll keep track.

  9. Bob Horton Says:

    “First feminist novel” seems a bit of stretch – perhaps the more recent graduates of Cretin-Derham could offer something here?

    Here’s my recommendation for the quotations:

    In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.

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