12 September 2009

7. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

A damning indictment of American conformity.

This was one of the best books I have ever read. The writing was sharp, fresh and interesting. Even though it was written in 1920, the problems facing George Babbitt are surprisingly modern.

Babbitt is a real-estate salesman and member of all the booster clubs and business associations in his town - think Elks and Rotary club and all that. But something is nagging his conscience. Facing the beginning of his middle age, his regrets begin to pile up. He yearns for a break out. But as his restlessness grows, so does the resistance from his community, putting a friction on his revolution.

I very strongly recommend this book. Lewis is a master as diagnosing the problems with too much commercialism. Unfortunately, he doesn't offer any solution, but maybe he thought that simply showing us the mess we're in would be enough for us to reform our ways. Obviously things have only gotten worse in the last 90 years, but that only makes the book more important now. Read it!

3 comments:

Dan said...

I will read it. Thanks for the suggestion. :-)

Crumbolst said...

Me too. I have this one on the shelf and have been blowing it off for a while. Oddly, I thought it was about something entirely different.

Redwing said...

I have a copy of Main Street and thought I would read that first.

But a colleague of mine started Babbitt in August and said I should get into it before school started. After I read the first chapter I was hooked. I set aside all other reading.

He got into it because Richard Wright, the author of Black Boy, said that when he read Babbitt it opened his eyes to corporate America and he never looked at his bosses the same.

And get this, HG Wells himself said that he wished he could have written Babbitt it was so good. Edith Wharton wrote to Lewis to congratulate him on such a great book.

(And both Lewis and Wright mention HL Mencken, so I guess he'll be up here pretty soon, too.)

We have about 100 copies in my school's book room and I have a very strong urge to teach this book!