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Thanatopsis

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Main Street by Sinclair Lewis was a dashing and enlightening read. I wouldn’t recommend it however, it’s too real. Even though the action in the novel takes place almost a hundred years ago it could be not a day old.

It goes on and on about all the things that happen in a small town. The characters instantly spring to life and jump right out of the book in the most amazing way. It’s long though, 500 pages of small type, not for your average escapists type of reading.

Each personality, practically living within the pages, could be someone we know from our small town. It says too much about America in a devastating satirical manner. I laughed out loud practically with every sentence but at the same time I wanted to cry because I could identify personally with what the characters were going through.

The book was just so real. I think most people today want to read things like the Da Vinci Code because it’s all fake. When I read a book by Dan Brown I don’t think I laugh one bit. Angels and Demons was all serious fake stuff, you don’t really relate to the characters, it’s all plot. Main Street by Lewis doesn’t have that much of a plot, for that reason I wouldn’t waste your time reading it.

It did win the Pulitzer Prize for literature(it was rescinded by the board overriding the judges) when it came out in 1920. It’s kind of epic in that great American novel kind of way. Long read, though I had trouble putting it down, for water breaks and what not. If you just want to read a few paragraphs before bed each night it’s not for you, Sherlock Holmes is much better for that.

This one is more like a Mark Twain book but longer and more vivid. Oh and there’s a message, I don’t want to give it away but it’s like the view of our downtown from all the different perspectives. That’s what was drawing me deeper into the book and why I couldn’t put her down. Over the last decades I had always thought about our Main Street, it’s changes and personalities and what have you. I always thought of it like a Steinbeck novel. But lately, the last ten years, it’s been getting more complicated, there used to be more of a consensus about things(downtown). Now we have all these different agendas for downtown and hardly anyone can agree.

So as I was reading this book by Lewis, I was amazed at the subtle irony and the distinctions in the perspectives. Like the guy who moves into town and gets everybody worked up about the booster committee, they hire an ad agency from Chicago to make a brochure for the town in an effort to draw factories in so as to build things up, the fever.

Any way it’s all there in black and white but I don’t think it’s for everyone. It’s very witty and subtle and dripping with irony. No actual pictures. It does create a mental picture however. It kind of unravels personal motivations in a way that exposes a sort of human vulnerability. It gets at some big ideas about wanting to be an artist and an individualist. Lots of stuff about society and sociology, probably one of my all-time favorites but since I just finished it I still need time to absorb what it all means.

To the Pulitzer Prize Committee,
Courtesy of Mr. Frank D. Fackenthal, Secretary,
Columbia University
New York City

Sirs:—

I wish to acknowledge your choice of my novel “Arrowsmith” for the Pulitzer Prize. That prize I must refuse, and my refusal would be meaningless unless I explained the reasons.

All prizes, like all titles, are dangerous. The seekers for prizes tend to labor not for inherent excellence but for alien rewards: they tend to write this, or timorously to avoid writing that, in order to tickle the prejudices of a haphazard committee. And the Pulitzer Prize for novels is peculiarly objectionable because the terms of it have been constantly and grievously misrepresented.

Those terms are that the prize shall be given “for the American novel published during the year which shall best present the wholesome atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American manners and manhood.” This phrase, if it means anything whatever, would appear to mean that the appraisal of the novels shall be made not according to their actual literary merit but in obedience to whatever code of Good Form may chance to be popular at the moment.

That there is such a limitation of the award is little understood. Because of the condensed manner in which the announcement is usually reported, and because certain publishers have trumpeted that any novel which has received the Pulitzer Prize has thus been established without qualification as the best novel, the public has come to believe that the prize is the highest honor which an American novelist can receive.

The Pulitzer Prize for Novels signifies, already, much more than a convenient thousand dollars to be accepted even by such writers as smile secretly at the actual wording of the terms. It is tending to become a sanctified tradition. There is a general belief that the administrators of the prize are a pontifical body with the discernment and power to grant the prize as the ultimate proof of merit. It is believed that they are always guided by a committee of responsible critics, though in the case both of this and other Pulitzer Prizes, the administrators can, and sometimes do, quite arbitrarily reject the recommendations of their supposed advisers.

If already the Pulitzer Prize is so important, it is not absurd to suggest that in another generation it may, with the actual terms of the award ignored, become the one thing for which any ambitious novelist will strive; and the administrators of the prize may become a supreme court, a college of cardinals, so rooted and so sacred that to challenge them will be to commit blasphemy. Such is the French Academy, and we have had the spectacle of even an Anatole France intriguing for election.

Only by regularly refusing the Pulitzer Prize can novelists keep such a power from being permanently set up over them.

Between the Pulitzer Prizes, the American Academy of Arts and Letters and its training-school, the National Institute of Arts and Letters, amateur boards of censorship, and the inquisition of earnest literary ladies, every compulsion is put upon writers to become safe, polite, obedient, and sterile. In protest, I declined election to the National Institute of Arts and Letters some years ago, and now I must decline the Pulitzer Prize.

I invite other writers to consider the fact that by accepting the prizes and approval of these vague institutions we are admitting their authority, publicly confirming them as the final judges of literary excellence, and I inquire whether any prize is worth that subservience.

I am, sirs,

Yours sincerely,

(Signed)

Sinclair Lewis

Categories: General, Westport

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