Friday, August 13, 2010

It's Phun to be a Philistine

Day 186 of the "What are you reading, any why?" project and Lorel is reading Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis, and loving it. Because it is way more fun than Olive Kitteridge.

Here are some of the random coincidii related to Babbitt.

Babbitt was, for a time, the favorite book of the owner of Babbitt's Books, who is not named Babbitt, no matter how many people call him that. You can read all about Brian Simpson and the renovation of Uptown Normal* in this really nice article in the Illinois State Alumni Magazine.

Said owner has one of those library posters of himself in the window of Babbitt's Books, holding up the book Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis! This one, a little mass market paperback.

Babbitt's Books just celebrated its 25th year in existence this July, although I still might not have the story straight. Books were a sideline at first in a vintage clothing store, but now it's all books, all the time.

Unless we add some of those cool book cover t-shirts! Or tote bags! (It's phun to be a philistine.)

Lorel just celebrated a birthday on August 9. I won't say which one because:

1) I am a lady
2) she is a lady
3) I don't know
4) I should know, but my brain now resembles steamed cauliflower, and I lost track

I am going to a 50th birthday party tonight! I won't say whose. But not Lorel's. And not mine.

I just read about Sinclair Lewis and Theodore Dreiser's feud, over the Nobel Prize, sort of--they both wanted it, of course, but there were other things going on:

1) Lewis had an alcohol problem
2) Dreiser had flirted with Lewis's wife-to-be, Dorothy Thompson
3) Lewis had failed to provide a publisher blurb for Dreiser's book, An American Tragedy
4) Dreiser had plagiarized or "lifted" passages from a book about Russia by Thompson for his own book about Russia

Sigh. You can read about all this and more in Literary Feuds by Anthony Arthur, which also explains, summarizing Swedish scholar Rolf Lunden, why an American finally got the the Nobel Prize, and why Lewis and Dreiser were the top runners. "Both writers were valued because they portrayed the United States as a nest of grasping, materialistic, bourgeois philistines and hypocrites, at best shallow and silly, at worst brutal and stupid."

No wonder Lorel is enjoying the book so much.

Arthur says, "The Nobel Prize was given to Lewis, in a word, because he insulted his country more entertainingly than Dreiser did...."

And then the two men insulted each other. And nearly had a fistfight at a writers' dinner.

*AKA "Uppity Town Normal" by Kim, who is addicted to hummus.


Lorel Janiszewski said...

Okay. First I probably find Babbitt more fun because, though I resemble him, I don't resemble him quite so much as I do Olive Kitteridge. Second, thanks for the dirt on Dreiser/Sinclair. Yes I'm a fillisteen and don't know beans about these authors - yet - but I'm already curious as to why Sinclair did not accept the Pulitzer. And while we're at it, why is Lindsey Lohan moving out East after rehab? So many questions; so few cauliflower cells.

Kathleen said...

I could go for some deep-fried cauliflower.