Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book Review: Sinclair Lewis

I borrowed this biography of Sinclair Lewis, written by Richard O'Connor, from my sister. I saw her rating of it (three stars) on Goodreads and wondered how a biography of such an amazing writer could have gotten anything below three stars. Then I read it.
Sinclair Lewis is one of my favorite authors. I believe I've read seven of his books (Main Street, Babbitt, Elmer Gantry, Dodsworth, Arrowsmith, Ann Vickers, It Can't Happen Here...yep, that's seven), and Main Street is one of my favorite books. They're all pretty fantastic. And even though I love his writing, I know very little about the author. I've visited his childhood home in Sauk Centre and gone to the interpretive center there that is dedicated to him, but I've never read much about him.
I thought this biography started out really well. I was really enjoying reading about Sinclair Lewis's life.  Then the author started inserting his own personal opinions about Lewis's work. He thinks Dodsworth is a better book than Elmer Gantry? Wait, what? Nuh uh. Surely he must be joking, I thought.
Now, I know that my opinions are my own and not everyone will agree with me. But I disagreed with a lot of what O'Connor said about Lewis's books, and I found myself wondering why he felt the need to put in his feelings about his work at all. Was it not enough to tell us what the critics thought, and whether people bought the book? Instead he bashes Carol Kennicott (sorry, dude, you do NOT bash Carol Kennicott) and puts Dodsworth above Elmer Gantry. Maybe Elmer Gantry has aged better than Dodsworth, or become more relevant (the O'Connor biography is 40 years old). I suspect that may be the case. I also seem to think a lot more of Ann Vickers than O'Connor does.
Even though I found myself shaking my head at times, one good thing about this biography is that it left me wanting more. I've had another book about Sinclair Lewis, Rebel from Main Street, sitting on my shelf for a long time. I don't know why I haven't read it before now, but now it's definitely on my list of books that I need to read soon.

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