Book review: Main Street

It's hard for me to believe that Main Street was ever a groundbreaking work of fiction, but then, it's hard for me to believe that I ever thought 256MB was a lot of RAM.

Was there ever a time when we (America, not the royal "we") weren't aware of our dissatisfaction with the status quo? Of the stultifying, enervating, soul-killing small-mindedness of small-town American life? And really, even way back when, were 500+ pages what it took to get the point across? I mean, if the definitive book on English grammar and structure can clock in at just over a hundred, how much space need be devoted to descriptions of uninspired home decor, gorgeous Minnesota in the raw and the dialectic journey of a main character who is more stock mouthpiece than compelling, flesh-and-foible heroine?

On the other hand, given the current state of domestic affairs, I can easily imagine some fellow American "a-yup"ing his or her way through Main Street, thumping the denizens of Gopher Prairie for being tasteless, visionless rubes before heading out in the Suburban to grouse about the ridiculousness of gay marriage and the righteousness of those who condemn it over an MGD and a blooming onion at The Outback. So there's probably still a need for Main Street, or something like it.

I'm casting my vote for the latter. It takes a level of determination (or insomnia) for me to slog through Sinclair Lewis that, say, Theodore Dreiser doesn't require. (I'm just 50 or so pages into Babbitt now, and granted, it's more engaging than the obvious polemic that is Main Street, but it's still...well, windy.) Jane Austen wrote scathing social commentaries that still stand up as ripping good yarns. Even Dickens crafted a more compelling read than Lewis and he took at least twice the ink to do it in.

What's most irksome to me is that I used up credit at my favorite used book store to buy a crumbling, yellowed copy when I could have purchased an EZ-on-the-old-eyes Dover Thrift Edition for just $3.50. Or better yet, read it online or even downloaded as an eBook, for free. It's not bad idea to revisit the classics once or twice in a lifetime and I'm glad someone's preserving copies so I can do so, but good authorial intentions, and Nobel Peace Prize, notwithstanding, I just don't see Main Street as a wise allocation of precious bookshelf real estate.


UPDATE (12/3/08): In a shameless and transparent act of caving, I've been replacing book and DVD links with Amazon affiliate links throughout the site. I MAKE MONEY WHEN YOU CLICK ON THESE. Like, a full 1/4 cent or something. Whatever. I'm happy if you borrow it from a friend or the library, or buy it used (I like and alibris online) or, praise Jeebus!, from your local independent dead tree retailer. Seriously. The main thing is, read. Absorb. Enjoy. Pass it on.