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.
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 York: 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.