What the Editors Are Reading

When I was in my middle teens I read all or most of Sinclair Lewis’s work.  It seems impossible, but it is a fact nevertheless that Main Street will be a century old next year, and Babbitt in 2022.  I took my copy of the latter from the shelf the other day (Signet Classic edition, price 75¢) and began re-rereading it from the beginning.  When I was 15 or 16 I must have had the text by heart, and wrote several novels of my own in the Lewis style over the summers.

Today Lewis is unread, and virtually forgotten.  Indeed most of his books are (and were) not worth reading—Ann Vickers, etc.—but three, I should say, stand the test of time very well, for the reason that they are really very excellent novels: Main Street, Babbitt, and Dodsworth, while the fourth—Elmer Gantry—has some good things in it and is in places very funny.  As for the second of these, it is remarkable how well the book has aged—another way of saying that the mid-sized middle-class Middle American city survives in the second decade of the 21st century, easily recognizable in tone and feel and in many ways socially intact despite the opioid epidemic, which mainly affects the classes beneath it.  From the Zenith (Lewis’s model for the place was Cincinnati) of 1920 to the Cheyenne of 2019 seems hardly more than a step in time,...

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