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30 review for Babbitt (Historical Fiction Books) (Volume 46)

  1. 4 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    The Success of Failure Babbitt is perhaps the first comic novel of mid-life crisis. It shows Lewis at his most Dickens-like, creating prototypical American characters that live on in cultural mythology. The issue is this: How does an imperfect male human being, knowing his flaws only too well, make his way in an equally flawed society - without sacrificing either his own integrity or his ability to participate in that society? Lewis answer: Essentially he can't. Everything is irrational compromis The Success of Failure Babbitt is perhaps the first comic novel of mid-life crisis. It shows Lewis at his most Dickens-like, creating prototypical American characters that live on in cultural mythology. The issue is this: How does an imperfect male human being, knowing his flaws only too well, make his way in an equally flawed society - without sacrificing either his own integrity or his ability to participate in that society? Lewis answer: Essentially he can't. Everything is irrational compromise. Plato's Socrates came to the same conclusion in the Republic. It is also the inevitability posed by Camus in his letters. It was the third century Christian theologian Tertullian who came up with the most precise formulation: Credo quia absurdum est, I believe in it because it is absurd. Babbitt's middle class American life is an absurdity. That he comes to terms with this absurdity is his, and our, only hope. Highly recommended as literary therapy during the reign of Donald Trump... or to understand where Philip Roth finds much of his inspiration.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lyn

    It always amazes me how human nature does not change. This book was written in and about the 1920's but except for some anachronistic language, could have been written today. This was also a fun glimpse at Prohibition era America. Lewis was spot on in many of his characterizations and was an astute observer of human nature. This should be on a list of books that everyone should read. It always amazes me how human nature does not change. This book was written in and about the 1920's but except for some anachronistic language, could have been written today. This was also a fun glimpse at Prohibition era America. Lewis was spot on in many of his characterizations and was an astute observer of human nature. This should be on a list of books that everyone should read.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Book Circle Reads 55 Rating: 4* of five The Publisher Says: Prosperous and socially prominent, George Babbitt appears to have everything. But when a personal crisis forces the middle-aged real estate agent to reexamine his life, Babbitt mounts a rebellion that jeopardizes everything he values. Widely considered Sinclair Lewis' greatest novel, this satire remains an ever-relevant tale of an individual caught in the machinery of modern life. An even better sales copy is on the Buns and Nubile edition Book Circle Reads 55 Rating: 4* of five The Publisher Says: Prosperous and socially prominent, George Babbitt appears to have everything. But when a personal crisis forces the middle-aged real estate agent to reexamine his life, Babbitt mounts a rebellion that jeopardizes everything he values. Widely considered Sinclair Lewis' greatest novel, this satire remains an ever-relevant tale of an individual caught in the machinery of modern life. An even better sales copy is on the Buns and Nubile edition's jacket: In the small midwestern city of Zenith, George Babbitt seems to have it all: a successful real-estate business, a devoted wife, three children, and a house with all the modern conveniences. Yet, dissatisfied and lonely, he’s begun to question the conformity, consumerism, and competitiveness of his conservative, and ultimately cultureless middle-class community. His despairing sense that something, many things are missing from his life leads him into a flirtation with liberal politics and a fling with an attractive and seemingly "bohemian” widow. But he soon finds that his attempts at rebellion may cost more than he is willing to pay. The title of Sinclair Lewis’s 1922 satire on American materialism added a new word to our vocabulary. "Babbittry” has come to stand for all that’s wrong with a world where the pursuit of happiness means the procurement of things—a world that substitutes "stuff” for "soul.” Some twenty years after Babbitt’s initial success, critics called Lewis dated and his fiction old-fashioned. But these judgments have come to seem like wishful thinking. With Babbitry evident all around us, the novel is more relevant than ever. My Review: This was a book circle read from the 1990s. That wasn't my first time reading the book, and it's well worth re-reading even now. Poor Babbitt, saddled with that horrible word as an epitaph! Even in Auntie Mame, the most effervescent and light-hearted of romps, Mame excoriates Patrick by by calling him a "beastly, Babbitty snob." And yes, George starts out that way, Babbitty and shallow and consumerist and uncultured and jingoistic. He flirts with enlightenment, though, lest we forget! He grows and changes in his inner life throughout the novel! The implication of calling someone Babbitty or referring to cutural Babbittry presupposes they can't or won't change, and that's what the novel is about! My mother, whose copy I read, told me it was about how middle-aged men go crazy and run off the rails. I wonder.... But in this specific day and time, this horrible moment when CEOs make over 1000 times what the people who do the work earn, this book is a must-read. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    "Well, if that’s what you call being at peace, for heaven’s sake just warn me before you go to war, will you?" Well, Babbitt is the American idea at peace. And it constitutes a warning that we should be taking seriously! Either my memory is getting more and more nostalgic, or Sinclair Lewis nailed it over and over again, in the same frustrating way Atwood and Orwell did: by seeing the ugliness before it existed to its full extent. Beware of good-natured American ambition. It's a killer! And bewa "Well, if that’s what you call being at peace, for heaven’s sake just warn me before you go to war, will you?" Well, Babbitt is the American idea at peace. And it constitutes a warning that we should be taking seriously! Either my memory is getting more and more nostalgic, or Sinclair Lewis nailed it over and over again, in the same frustrating way Atwood and Orwell did: by seeing the ugliness before it existed to its full extent. Beware of good-natured American ambition. It's a killer! And beware even more of its twin, American morality! It's a sinner! Let us be warned, for Lewis got it right.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Viola

    Given that Babbitt was published in 1922, I expected to travel back in time and experience life of the 1920s. I expected to be transported to a different era. I expected to be greeted by a foreign world. And, instead, I mostly felt firmly planted in modern day. Yes, it is true that the language and manner of speaking is different. It’s “by golly” this and “by gosh” that. But, the themes and all of the satire still speak to the human experience of modern day. And in that way, I found the novel to Given that Babbitt was published in 1922, I expected to travel back in time and experience life of the 1920s. I expected to be transported to a different era. I expected to be greeted by a foreign world. And, instead, I mostly felt firmly planted in modern day. Yes, it is true that the language and manner of speaking is different. It’s “by golly” this and “by gosh” that. But, the themes and all of the satire still speak to the human experience of modern day. And in that way, I found the novel to be surprisingly contemporary. Sinclair Lewis takes a critical look at the life of a white middle aged man in small town America, and makes fun of just about everything one could possibly make fun of. The futile one-up-manship. The desire to fit in. The attempts and failures of self-control. The pretentiousness. The hypocrisy. The lack of individual thought. The intense conformity. And through it all, a pervading sense of insecurity, uneasiness, and boredom. Is this all that life has to offer? Even though Sinclair Lewis clearly uses Babbitt as his primary vehicle for satire throughout the entire novel, he simultaneously made Babbitt a complete and full-fledged character. A believable human character, and not an absurd caricature, which is what tends to happen in satires. I found Babbitt to be a likeable character, an endearing one, for despite all of his flaws and all of his unhappiness with middle class, suburban life, Babbitt always seemed to have an optimism about him, a certain childlike innocence. He never despaired. He had his moments of pure joy. And I loved that about him. The satire in this novel was perfect. I couldn’t count the number of times I laughed while reading this book. And when I say that the satire was perfect, I mean, it was funny, real, and relatable in a way that you could laugh at yourself if you saw yourself in Babbitt. The satire was not biting or caustic, because when satire is overly harsh, it doesn’t work as a vehicle for social change. When it is overly harsh, you are just laughing at other people. That’s just mean, and they aren't necessarily going to change just because you are laughing at them. If you see any bit of yourself in whatever is being satirized and the satire is too harsh, you end up staunchly defending yourself rather than laughing and being open-minded to change. If the point of satire is to nudge us to change ourselves, to allow us to see how ridiculous we are, then it can’t be overly harsh. And from that point, I thought Babbitt as a satire was perfect in allowing us to laugh at ourselves.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    This is a love/hate thing. In Sinclair Lewis’s previous novel Main Street there is more love than hate and in Babbitt it’s the other way round. He does hate George Babbitt for all his boorishness, his complacency, his wretched kneejerk reactionary rightwing politics, his pallid marriage, his blaring friends, his ridiculous slang, his stupid stupidity, but by the end, by the time George has been pulled through a couple of hedges backwards, you can see he loves him a bit too. This novel is about t This is a love/hate thing. In Sinclair Lewis’s previous novel Main Street there is more love than hate and in Babbitt it’s the other way round. He does hate George Babbitt for all his boorishness, his complacency, his wretched kneejerk reactionary rightwing politics, his pallid marriage, his blaring friends, his ridiculous slang, his stupid stupidity, but by the end, by the time George has been pulled through a couple of hedges backwards, you can see he loves him a bit too. This novel is about two things – the horribleness of American material acquisitive claustrophobic class-ridden unfettered capitalist life and George Babbitt’s miserable crisis at age 46 and how he goes off the rails and gets back on them. A REGULAR GUY Of a decent man in Zenith it was required that he should belong to one, preferably two or three, of the innumerable “lodges” and prosperity-boosting lunch-clubs : to the Rotarians, the Kiwanis, or the Boosters; to the odd Fellows, Moose, Masons, Red Men, Woodmen, Owls, Eagles, Maccabees, Knights of Pythias… It was the thing to do. This novel features several frankly overdetailed satirical descriptions of these hearty braying get-togethers. As we wend our way to the middle of the novel we have still not detected much of a plot, just a whole lot of fun being made of old George. Eventually it dawns on him : he isn’t happy. We are not short of tales of drab regular guys trying to bust out of their straightjacketed lives : Pennies from Heaven by Dennis Potter Freedom by Jonathan Franzen The movie American Beauty And Updike, Ford, Roth, on and on. Guys love this stuff! Babbitt is Mr Midlife Crisis 1921. Sinclair Lewis loves to tell us just how sad George’s life has been, in spite of all his hectic capering jolly boosterism : In twenty-three years of married life he had peered uneasily at every graceful ankle, every soft shoulder; in thought he had treasured them; but not once had he hazarded respectability by adventuring. The grim realities are summed up in this devastating sentence about his wife : For years she had been bored by anything more affectionate than a farewell kiss, and yet she was hurt by any slackening in his irritable periodic interest Now that’s a gut punch for you. “Irritable”… brilliant! HOW GEORGE GOT MARRIED It happened by accident. He palled around with this fellow student. Of love there was no talk between them…. And Myra was distinctly a Nice Girl – one didn’t kiss her, one didn’t “think about her that way at all” unless one was going to marry her. But she was a dependable companion… And he find out to his horror that she assumes they are engaged! And he doesn’t have the heart to say they aren’t or that he doesn’t love her. How horrible! WHAT FUN Sinclair Lewis can zing some devastating lines when you aren’t expecting it : He accepted Overbrook’s next plaintive invitation, for an evening two weeks off. A dinner two weeks off, even a family dinner, never seems so appalling, till the two weeks have astoundingly disappeared and one comes dismayed to the ambushed hour. He wandered home and found his wife radiant with the horrified interest we have in the tragedies of our friends. TWO THINGS ABOUT THE 1920S They thought drunk driving was not a problem. With his other faculties blurred he yet had the motorist’s gift of being able to drive when he could scarcely walk And…. They had young female manicurists working in men’s barber parlors. I thought that was strange. So guys had their nails done after they had a shave & haircut. I don’t think guys do that anymore. TWO THINGS SINCLAIR LEWIS DID NOT TELL ME When old George Babbitt does find himself a lady friend, I could not figure if we were supposed to assume the relationship was merely platonic (a lot of drinking and dancing, a little bit of kissing) or something more. I was frustrated! Tell me, Sinclair! And – all these white middle class types loved jazz and cocked a snook at “longhaired” music (classical!). But were they listening to Fletcher Henderson or Paul Whiteman – the black originals or the white ripoff merchants? The musicologist in me wanted to know. GEORGE’S EPIPHANY It was coming to him that perhaps all life as he knew it and vigorously practiced it was futile; that heaven…was neither probable nor very interesting; that he hadn’t much pleasure out of making money; that it was of doubtful worth to rear children merely that they might rear children who would rear children. THE WRAP UP Sinclair Lewis wrote four Big Ones – Main Street (it exhausted me but I finally did love it), Babbitt, Elmer Gantry (I saw the movie – what a brilliant performance by Burt Lancaster) and It Can’t Happen Here (about a fascist takeover of the USA – sounds interesting). Well, that’s four more big ones than a lot of novelists I could think of. In the end, although Babbitt was a pain in the neck a lot of the time, and there was way too much laughing-at-the-zoo-animals about it, I ended up finding just enough compassion in it for a final four stars. But I’m not sure I’m recommending it to you goodreaders. I don’t think you’d come back and thank me.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jon Nakapalau

    Babbitt reminds me of Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb - we spin a cocoon of "becoming" around ourselves and go about our life...but as time goes by the cocoon is not transformative, but binding. At some point in everyone's life the cocoon of what we wanted to "become" becomes the web that traps who we "are". For most of us 'Comfortably Numb' sneaks up through the decades; only then do we realize our "butterfly summer" passed by us long ago. Babbitt reminds me of Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb - we spin a cocoon of "becoming" around ourselves and go about our life...but as time goes by the cocoon is not transformative, but binding. At some point in everyone's life the cocoon of what we wanted to "become" becomes the web that traps who we "are". For most of us 'Comfortably Numb' sneaks up through the decades; only then do we realize our "butterfly summer" passed by us long ago.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Holiday

    I don't think there was anyone in the 1920s who would have believed that this book would be completely forgotten. By all accounts, it was destined to be a classic critical novel of the American experience. You can't read anything about the '20s and '30s that doesn't comment on Babbitt (sold 130,000 copies its first year, HL Mecken loved it, it won Lewis a Nobel Prize). Calling someone a "Babbitt" was considered an insult and the phrase became a constant topic of conversation in the media and lit I don't think there was anyone in the 1920s who would have believed that this book would be completely forgotten. By all accounts, it was destined to be a classic critical novel of the American experience. You can't read anything about the '20s and '30s that doesn't comment on Babbitt (sold 130,000 copies its first year, HL Mecken loved it, it won Lewis a Nobel Prize). Calling someone a "Babbitt" was considered an insult and the phrase became a constant topic of conversation in the media and literature. Yet, here we are 80 years later, and you've probably never heard of the term or the book. Even English and history teachers pretend it doesn't exist. I don't know why, it's insightful and funny. Perhaps it's because the biting satire of American suburban middle class life cuts deeper now than it did then. We prefer the glamour of Fitzgerald's jazz age to the notion that "the American Dream" is more often pursued and achieved with painful earnestness by unaware buffoons than anyone else. The book is a little tough to get into at first because of the '20s style newspaper-speak, but get through it--it's worth it. It doesn't matter if the book is old or out of style, at its core it's about the fight against conformity and a critique of what Thoreau called the "life of quiet desperation." It's as timely as ever, as far I'm concerned.

  9. 5 out of 5

    MJ Nicholls

    George F. Babbitt is the perfect encapsulation of the myth of the self-made American man. As we all know, the American Dream only really applies to bullish, rule-breaking, money-obsessed, morally loose, emotionally shrunken borderline psychotics, and Babbitt meets these criteria and then some. This quintessential novel of the Roaring Twenties is a rollicking powerhouse that exquisitely nails down the natty nuances of speech, the strange, affected cadences of the pep-powered peoples in a decade t George F. Babbitt is the perfect encapsulation of the myth of the self-made American man. As we all know, the American Dream only really applies to bullish, rule-breaking, money-obsessed, morally loose, emotionally shrunken borderline psychotics, and Babbitt meets these criteria and then some. This quintessential novel of the Roaring Twenties is a rollicking powerhouse that exquisitely nails down the natty nuances of speech, the strange, affected cadences of the pep-powered peoples in a decade that set the blueprint for the rampage of cutthroat capitalism that followed. There are no shortage of satirical, excoriating novels exposing the hypocrisy of republican values and the essentially autocratic “democracy” of the States, but this rootin’-tootin’ firebrand has to be among the funniest, most quotable, and most blistering.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    Clearly, Babbitt should be viewed as a criticism of conformity, consumerism and materialism. Tell me, today, is there anyone who would not support such criticism?! I have no complaint whatsoever with the message, although it is today no big news. To get the message across, readers must, however, spend time with George F. Babbitt, and time spent with him is not pleasant. This book led to the creation of a new word—babbitt. A babbitt is defined as a materialistic, complacent, and conformist bu Clearly, Babbitt should be viewed as a criticism of conformity, consumerism and materialism. Tell me, today, is there anyone who would not support such criticism?! I have no complaint whatsoever with the message, although it is today no big news. To get the message across, readers must, however, spend time with George F. Babbitt, and time spent with him is not pleasant. This book led to the creation of a new word—babbitt. A babbitt is defined as a materialistic, complacent, and conformist businessman. In this book we follow George F. Babbitt for two years. He lives in the fictious midwestern town of Zenith. At the start he is forty-six, married and has three children, ages twenty-two, seventeen and ten. One might easily classify this book as simply being about a man’s midlife crisis, which I find rather a bore. It has been done before. One might also say it is a critique of the American Dream. Published in 1922 the time was ripe for such disillusionment. The book is filled with details, tedious details about the most unessential of things. Remember, the book is a critique of materialism. I simply am not enthralled by a description of office water fountains, even if they are the newest of the new, gleaming and efficient, or a modern high-tech alarm clock beside Babbitt’s bed or the expensive cigar lighter he splurges on for his car. He tells us and himself, over and over, that he is not going to smoke anymore! Much is repeated, and conversations are empty. They are in fact supposed to be empty; that is the point. The book is a critique of the middle class life Babbitt and all those around him were living. You could say the book does what is sets out to do too well. Listening to the empty drivel is nauseating. On top of the excessive detail and the empty talk, one must also deal with George Babbitt, and he is so very full of himself, I personally wanted to wring his neck. Now, I hope you understand why I so dislike the book, despite that it relays a message that is valid. There is not one character to admire. They all made me sick. Women are as empty headed as the men. At one point, Babbitt has misgivings about the life he is living. This made me happy—I was happy because he was unhappy. Isn’t that crazy?! The only thing that haunts me is that since the book manages to annoy me as much as it does, obviously, it has gotten its message across. The audiobook is narrated by Grover Gardener. He gets across the book’s message extremely well. His narration fits the book perfectly. Five stars I have given his narration. *********************** *Main Street 3 stars *Arrowsmith 2 stars *Babbitt 1 star *Elmer Gantry not-for-me *It Can't Happen Here not-for-me

  11. 4 out of 5

    Annelies

    How I loved reading this book! The humoresque style in which it is told. It' a twenties story but actually very actual about a middleclass estate agent who is confronted with midlife crisis and something as a burnout. He wants to be popular, wants to do everything for it. His social staus is very important for him and his wife. But he climbs high and falls low and then understands that only self-relevation is the answer to life. The book never becomes dull. You have to laugh with Babbitt's tryin How I loved reading this book! The humoresque style in which it is told. It' a twenties story but actually very actual about a middleclass estate agent who is confronted with midlife crisis and something as a burnout. He wants to be popular, wants to do everything for it. His social staus is very important for him and his wife. But he climbs high and falls low and then understands that only self-relevation is the answer to life. The book never becomes dull. You have to laugh with Babbitt's trying to please everyone and his aching for a high social status. It's often hilarious but also you sometimes feel sorry for him. It's a great book! One of my favourites.

  12. 5 out of 5

    aPriL does feral sometimes

    'Babbitt' by Sinclair Lewis has dated vocabulary which was common to Babbitt's class of Midwestern businessmen of the 1920's, but there is nothing dated about the book's themes! Frankly, it is shocking that I can see almost no change of attitudes in the social class Lewis is focusing on in the novel even though this book was written in 1922. From the Barnes and Noble edition's book cover: "In the small midwestern city of Zenith, George Babbitt seems to have it all: a successful real-estate busines 'Babbitt' by Sinclair Lewis has dated vocabulary which was common to Babbitt's class of Midwestern businessmen of the 1920's, but there is nothing dated about the book's themes! Frankly, it is shocking that I can see almost no change of attitudes in the social class Lewis is focusing on in the novel even though this book was written in 1922. From the Barnes and Noble edition's book cover: "In the small midwestern city of Zenith, George Babbitt seems to have it all: a successful real-estate business, a devoted wife, three children, and a house with all the modern conveniences. Yet, dissatisfied and lonely, he’s begun to question the conformity, consumerism, and competitiveness of his conservative, and ultimately cultureless middle-class community. His despairing sense that something, many things are missing from his life leads him into a flirtation with liberal politics and a fling with an attractive and seemingly "bohemian” widow. But he soon finds that his attempts at rebellion may cost more than he is willing to pay. " Readers should note Lewis writes from the viewpoint of his characters, slyly exposing their ugly social-class prejudices and the casual cruelties of their tunnel vision. Of course, these people see nothing wrong in how they live or what they believe. Everyone they associate themselves with enforces their beliefs. The main characters live inside an echo chamber of parroted slogans.They trod a narrow path of judgemental righteousness dependent on a lockstepped white middle-class conservative conventionality. There is obvious racism, anti-Jewish rhetoric, and a scorn of the working-class and their efforts to form unions. Women are dull-eyed married matrons or "fast" in their eyes. Elite-university educations are suspicious since those possessing such an education might mean a lack of support in the self-serving sensibilities of these American Chamber of Commerce/Protestant church members. People who come back from trips to Europe are seen as possibly infected with European-style male 'effeminacy' - an interest in abnormal Art or Music. However, there is complete obliviousness of their own class's prejudices and faults. The shallow conformity and social group-think is enforced by a threat of shunning and loss of financial opportunities. Successful integration into business group norms is rewarded with respect and inclusion, with invites to mens' clubs. Will Babbitt climb out of the deep valley of narrow perspectives? The novel covers the same territory as Appointment in Samarra. Jude the Obscure goes there as well. Being a round square cog trying to fit into a square round hole can work - or maybe not. It depends on if one is able to file down those edges of who you really are, gentle reader, and what you are willing to give up to fit. Rewards can be great, or miniscule. Of course, moving from a social class to another social class has often been made impossibly ruinous by involved people. Not to mention the raw evil of using prejudices or power to unjustly destroy people who have the temerity of wanting to leave a group because of the implied criticism that entails.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    Actually, I read this as part of a self-oriented challenge to read a few of the "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die" list; like the ones I've chosen so far it turned out to be a fine novel, one with more than a lot of relevance to our modern world considering it was written in the 1920s. George F. Babbitt is a real estate agent in Zenith, a Midwestern city of of "towers of steel and cement and limestone" where the population has grown to "practically 362,000." While anyone visiting its busi Actually, I read this as part of a self-oriented challenge to read a few of the "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die" list; like the ones I've chosen so far it turned out to be a fine novel, one with more than a lot of relevance to our modern world considering it was written in the 1920s. George F. Babbitt is a real estate agent in Zenith, a Midwestern city of of "towers of steel and cement and limestone" where the population has grown to "practically 362,000." While anyone visiting its business center would be hard pressed to distinguish it from other major cities, George finds every inch of it "individual and stirring." He is married, has two children, and is above all wrapped up in his community standing. He belongs to a number of civic organizations, most prominently, the Zenith Boosters’ Club, where his like-minded, middle-class associates bow to the gods of business, money and progress and work to keep out any elements that they believe might possibly upset their collective and lucrative apple carts. George lives in a modern house with the latest technologies, belongs to a church, plays golf, and his opinions are shaped by the institutions and people with whom he associates and his political party. Underneath his public persona, however, he's starting to think that perhaps there's something missing, that he's not "entirely satisfied." George has an ongoing and secret dream fantasy of a "fairy child" who will help him to escape to places “more romantic than scarlet pagodas by a silver sea,” but the dreams are short lived; when daybreak comes it's back to more practical things. One of his old college buds and best friend, Paul Riesling, dreamed of becoming a concert violinist, but he too has jettisoned his dreams and has become a member of Zenith's middle-class business community. Unlike Babbitt, however, he is not afraid to confide his personal dissatisfaction: he's bored, his wife Zilla is a constant nag who makes him unhappy enough to have affairs, and he has come to the realization that in the business world, "all we do is cut each other's throats and make the public pay for it." Paul is the only one of Babbitt's associates that recognizes the need for responsibility -- something that Babbitt and his other cronies don't get. When Paul's problems with Zilla come to a head and he literally can no longer take it, he snaps -- and his actions and their consequences send Babbitt into introspective mode where he comes to realize that his way of life has been "incredibly mechanical:" "Mechanical business -- a brisk selling of badly built houses. Mechanical religion -- a dry, hard church, shut off from the real life of the streets, inhumanly respectable as a top-hat. Mechanical golf and dinner-parties and bridge and conversation. Save with Paul Riesling, mechanical friendships -- back-slapping and jocular, never daring to essay the test of quietness." prodding George into full-on rebellion. I won't say any more -- the novel is an excellent piece of satire on conformity and middle-class culture, business or otherwise. It is set in a time when unions, Socialism and any other form of organization among workers constituted a perceived threat to the American way of life; a time when the "American way of settling labor-troubles was for workmen to trust and love their employers." As Lewis remarks on an organization called the Good Citizens' League, the members of this group believed that "the working-classes must be kept in their place ... that American Democracy did not imply any equality of wealth, but did demand a wholesome sameness of thought, dress, painting, morals and vocabulary." There is also a very purposeful delineation of class in this novel, and Lewis has a way of juxtaposing one against the other in well-crafted scenes. The above-mentioned tedious minutiae which I wanted to end while my head was pounding with the flu also has a purpose that is not readily apparent, but which gains in importance over the course of the novel. Obviously there's much more to it, and there are some hefty critiques and reviews to be found where perhaps more can be gleaned. It is rather difficult to read, I suspect, under the best of conditions, so if you are contemplating it as a choice from the 1001 books you must read, my advice is not to give up. The book is constructed as a series of events and vignettes that eventually all come together in an ending which was not so predictable yet powerful, at least for me. Recommended -- but take your time with it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Wastrel

    The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction - formerly the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel - has long been one of the most respectable and important accolades in American literature. It is, as we all know, awarded to the greatest literature (in the eyes of the jury) produced by an American author in the preceding year. Always has been. But the definition of great literature has changed a little over time, not just when it comes to vague perceptions, but even as regards explicit definitions. For example, in the The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction - formerly the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel - has long been one of the most respectable and important accolades in American literature. It is, as we all know, awarded to the greatest literature (in the eyes of the jury) produced by an American author in the preceding year. Always has been. But the definition of great literature has changed a little over time, not just when it comes to vague perceptions, but even as regards explicit definitions. For example, in the 1920s, the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel was defined specifically, and uncontroversially, as being 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.. That definition is why Lewis' seventh novel, Main Street, despite being selected by the Pulitzer jury, was refused the prize (which went instead to the the less controversial The Age of Innocence). It's why Lewis, when his ninth novel, Arrowsmith, was finally offered the award, refused it in protest. And it's a pithy summation of everything that compelled Lewis to write his eight, and best-selling, novel, Babbitt. [EDIT: turns out it's also why Babbitt in turn was selected by the jury but disqualified for unwholesomeness by the board. That time the prize went to Cather's One of Ours instead] It's why it was controversial. And it's why it was a publishing phenomenon. It's why he won the Nobel Prize, and perhaps it's part of why he's steadily being forgotten. Sinclair Lewis was an insurgent in a war that ended long ago. It's not entirely clear whether he won. For context, by the way: Lewis created a new genre and style of literature, he won the Nobel, and he sold a shitload of copies: two of his novels were the #1 best-selling novels of their year, a third was #2, and Babbitt itself haunted the top ten for two years in a row (getting its own dictionary entry in the process). Sinclair Lewis was to the 1920s what Gabriel García Márquez and Tom Clancy would have been to the 1980s... if they had been the same person. This was a generation's One Hundred Years of Solitude and its Clear and Present Danger all rolled into one. And you can read my meandering review of it over on my blog. For those who don't have the time or energy to wade through that, here are some pros and cons... PRO: - it's a highy informative, exhaustively researched, all-encompassing and painstakingly of-the-second survey of life in America in 1920 - the extent to which it mirrors and foreshadows modern life, not only in general outline but in many details, is genuinely unsettling and depressing - its an aggressive satire that is reliably amusing and occasionally hilarious - both intentionally and unintentionally, its use of 1920 slang and idiom is itself amusing, as well as fascinating, and perfectly fits its portrait of a swell and zippy he-America* manic with pep, zing, zest and zow - it may be the Ur-Text of the modern Literary Novel genre - it is at times, particularly in the second half, an affecting presentation of bourgeois anomie, anxiety, and captivity, as well as of existential dread CON: - it may be the Ur-Text of the modern Literary Novel genre. It takes nothing-happening to an artform. Little exciting occurs, and most of that is in the second half - if it were a fantasy novel, you'd say the author was obsessed with worldbuilding and that the plot was hijacked by self-indulgent travelogue; 80% of the novel could be removed without greatly damaging the whole - since it is so of-its-second, between the slang and the fine nuances of social expectations in 1920, much of the impact of the novel has long since been lost - Lewis, Nobel aside, is not a particularly fine writer, in technical terms. He attempts a wry irony in the style of a Wodehouse or a Cabell, but isn't as good at it as they were, and he errs too often on the side of prolixity (I recently read Cabell's Jurgen, which covers much of the same ground with a similar style but in a fantasy setting, and which I suspect Lewis took as a model for Babbitt in some ways - but the older novel is both funnier and better than its social realist nephew) - he has, in particular, the grace and refinement of a jackhammer, and his approach to satirical irony is much like the approach to fine dining taken by a contestant in a no-holds-barred hotdog-eating contest. Obvious jokes/barbs are machine-gunned at the reader at an unyielding pace, and then repeated, and then explained, just to make sure you can't possibly fail to understand the meaning. Occasionally one hits the target; more often, the reader can appreciate the simple yet filling meat-by-product; and yet the sheer onslaught of it - while grimly, freakishly, impressive in its way - rather detracts from the reader's enjoyment of any particular bite The result was something I enjoyed much more than I was expecting to (because it is funny and it does get more interesting as you go on), but less than I wanted to (because Lewis' intent in this book could have been executed much more succesfully). It is, however, a book that will stay with me: by the end, the genteel, all-swallowing fury of its satire has swelled to such a proportion that it is perhaps the perfect representation of vacuous modernity (how is a book able to be so exactly of its own particular moment and at the same time so continually applicable?) - now if only it had been able to present itself in the form of a compelling novel... In the end, Babbitt is a novel that deserves its place in history, and deserves, and will reward, more readers with an interest in its era. On the other hand, to continue to put this on lists of the greatest novels of all time, as some do, is surely to betray a lack of knowledge of the breadth and heights of literature. To put it briefly: if you want to only read good books that aren't a waste of time to read, you can certainly defend putting Babbitt on your list, particularly if you are interested either in its era or its themes, or if you are interested in the history of literature. But you could also certainly defend not having it on such a list, because (other than as part of a history project) it's not exactly a must-read. *In the early 1920s, Americans added the prefix "he-" to words to indicate admiration and general awesomeness. Great literature, for instance, was real he-literature, a nice cup of coffee might be a real he-coffee. An advertising spiel telling people to learn martial arts (with one simple trick discovered by a Zenith housewife!) if they want to be he-men would be a real he-advertisement. This might seem absurd, ridiculous, laughable... until you go back and read the terms of the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel...

  15. 5 out of 5

    C C

    What pants should I wear to the US Open, I ask myself, anxiously, at seven in the morning, while guests of mine sleep on our threadbare black futon in our hot, cramped living room. Should I wear the chinos? I didn't even know they were called "chinos" until my girlfriend, sleeping in the bed I am pacing next to, told me they were called chinos. The chinos are off-white. Are all chinos off-white? Are there green chinos? White pants are risky. Is wearing white classy or fruity? Both? Isn't there a What pants should I wear to the US Open, I ask myself, anxiously, at seven in the morning, while guests of mine sleep on our threadbare black futon in our hot, cramped living room. Should I wear the chinos? I didn't even know they were called "chinos" until my girlfriend, sleeping in the bed I am pacing next to, told me they were called chinos. The chinos are off-white. Are all chinos off-white? Are there green chinos? White pants are risky. Is wearing white classy or fruity? Both? Isn't there a "rule" about wearing white? Something about Labor Day. Never wear white before Labor Day, or after Labor Day or on Labor Day. What day is today? Sunday. And it's the day before Labor Day. Why not wear my baggy shorts and sneakers and golf shirt? I could do that. But it's the US Open. That's not a normal sporting event. It's tennis. It's like golf. Wealthy people play tennis. Not on hot, cramped, city tennis courts, but at country clubs, and therefore wealthy people will be attending the US Open. Let me think. What would they wear? Expensive shirts with the collars intentionally left up (I heard someone describe them as "popped") and expensive sunglasses with white sweaters draped around their shoulders with the sleeves tied in a loose knot in front of their chests and the women will have pearl earrings. I have no sunglasses or white sweaters and my girlfriend has no pearl earrings and I have never left my collar up on purpose. I'll bring the matter to our guests. They are in the other room, on the couch. Guests in our apartment. My college friend and his girlfriend who works on Capitol Hill in DC. I cannot afford a house. I live in a poor neighborhood but I am not the same kind of poor as them. They are immigrants coming to America poor. I am middle class living beyond my means in an expensive city poor. What if the guests want breakfast? Am I supposed to make breakfast? We don't have time for cooking. We're late. Do wealthy people worry about being on time? Do poor people? Or just middle class people? Should I buy breakfast? I don't have enough money for that. Our guests have our tickets. I owe them money for the tickets. They are expensive. I have to pay for my ticket and my girlfriend's ticket. I need to check my bank account. What if I don't have enough. I checked. I don't have enough. What will the others in our party wear? I'll ask them. Should I wear a hat? I'm balding, badly. Just a few wisps of hair-like material on top of my head. I need a hat. Nobody wants to look a balding man. I think about George Babbitt almost every day.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Chloe

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Oh the pain of suburban ennui! It really and truly sucks when you do everything everyone always tells you will make you happy and then you realize that you're dissatisfied with the world. Poor Georgie Babbitt... or not. This is an early entry in the genre that has been driven into the ground by things like American Beauty, Norman Mailer's An American Dream and Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho. Middle-aged realtor and pillar of the community, George Babbitt, is an up-and-comer. He says all the r Oh the pain of suburban ennui! It really and truly sucks when you do everything everyone always tells you will make you happy and then you realize that you're dissatisfied with the world. Poor Georgie Babbitt... or not. This is an early entry in the genre that has been driven into the ground by things like American Beauty, Norman Mailer's An American Dream and Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho. Middle-aged realtor and pillar of the community, George Babbitt, is an up-and-comer. He says all the right things to all the right people and would never dare to take a crap in the rose bushes. Babbitt is a man defined by his conformity to social conventions, which is about as boring as it sounds. Then his friend shoots his wife (his friend's wife, not Babbitt's) and Babbitt's moral center goes askew. Except rather than doing interesting things, like Bateman feeding a cat to an ATM in Psycho, he just boozes it up and flirts with his neighbor's wives. All so very trite and dull. Lewis doesn't help with his plodding style and compulsion to have his characters deliver multi-paragraph rants about NOTHING! I didn't care for the reproductions of newspaper ads, I didn't care for the pages long sermons from the local preacher or the equally long sermons from the new age nutjob. I just didn't care.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    I think I may have read a short story or two by Sinclair Lewis during high school or early college, but if I did I don't remember it. Lewis was never one of the early modern American writers that I was very curious about, and so when Anna gave me a copy of Babbitt that she bought at some discount book sale, along with several other books, for my birthday I was maybe least excited about Babbitt (among that group of books)--knew nothing about it, really, aside from having heard of it before. Maybe I think I may have read a short story or two by Sinclair Lewis during high school or early college, but if I did I don't remember it. Lewis was never one of the early modern American writers that I was very curious about, and so when Anna gave me a copy of Babbitt that she bought at some discount book sale, along with several other books, for my birthday I was maybe least excited about Babbitt (among that group of books)--knew nothing about it, really, aside from having heard of it before. Maybe I'd heard of the movie? I think it was translated to film, decades ago. One of the more fascinating things about this book, to me, is that it was written and published during the time frame (mid 1920's) in which the story was set. Prohibition, pre-Depression, the rise of the middle class with their faith and optimism in business (such as Babbitt's refrain early in the book when he speaks of politics, "What we need is a sound business Administration!"), fear and hatred of socialism and communism (and unions) among the middle and upper class, leaps and bounds in generational mores and folkways between reserved parents, and the wilder lifestyles of young people with speakeasies, jazz, flappers, and more open and comfortable mindset toward sex. Anyways, I digress--the fact that it's written and published when it's set is fascinating because the novel is such a clear and perceptive satire, with such a great deal of pointed commentary (both directly said, and subtly implied) that it would have been, in my opinion, a very daring literary feat at the time. I read that Lewis traveled extensively while researching this book, visiting small American mid-western cities, studying their dialect, their politics, their children, their lives, their jobs, in order to craft this novel which in some ways is very reflective of the great satirists of Restoration England like Jonathan Swift, but at the same time incredibly Modernist. The only reason someone now might have for not reading Babbitt is in thinking that perhaps the setting, and thus satire, is a little dated. Certainly, the slang and dialect is unfamiliar and seems rather silly, and is meant to (I think) by the author. But Lewis address ideas and tendencies of American middle class people that are still relevant, and I felt I recognized many tendencies of the America that Lewis knew that are still present, still at issue. Also, for a satire, sometimes as a point of the allegorical nature of satire the characters are archetypes and stereotypes that remain static throughout the length of the work. In Babbitt, it's fascinating to see how (this is what I imagine, now, only what I imagine) Lewis seems to be so hard on Babbitt, on his way of life, his thoughts, tendencies, through his satire. Babbitt is naive and bumbling, not at all very heroic, and often not very likeable (to me). But over the course of the novel Lewis I think grows more fond of Babbitt, as Babbitt (in his naive and bumbling way) struggles to understand why he is so unhappy. Instead of being a whipping boy and poster boy for the satirical nature of the novel, which he seems to be at first, he is more easily recognizable as a very important, and special, human being who is heroic in his on way...as cheezey as that sounds. I think of Babbitt (the novel) as an epic of middle-class proportions.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Paul Haspel

    Babbitt looms over the entire American business establishment like a nemesis, or perhaps an SEC indictment. In a country so dedicated to the business ethic that we name warships and spacecraft after the concept of free enterprise, the career of businessman George F. Babbitt, willed into existence by novelist Sinclair Lewis as the title character and protagonist of his 1922 novel Babbitt, serves as a trenchant critique of the early 20th century's American business ethic – and this at a time when Babbitt looms over the entire American business establishment like a nemesis, or perhaps an SEC indictment. In a country so dedicated to the business ethic that we name warships and spacecraft after the concept of free enterprise, the career of businessman George F. Babbitt, willed into existence by novelist Sinclair Lewis as the title character and protagonist of his 1922 novel Babbitt, serves as a trenchant critique of the early 20th century's American business ethic – and this at a time when the President of the United States was wont to say that “The chief business of the American people is business.” Sinclair Lewis roared out of the small Midwestern community of Sauk Centre, Minnesota – a community that he later mockingly re-created as “Gopher Prairie” for his novel Main Street – and quickly created a name for himself as a slashing, merciless satirist of American life. Indeed, he may be the nearest thing to an American Jonathan Swift that the literature of the United States of America has yet produced. Babbitt is set in the fictional Midwestern city of Zenith – the name of which made me think of Xenia, Ohio. Yet my hunch is that Zenith is meant to be more like a ambitious Midwest city on the rise – a city, perhaps, like Minneapolis or Saint Paul in Lewis’s home state of Minnesota. As for the novel’s title character, with his name that sounds like a mashup of “babble” and “habit,” I will ask Lewis himself to provide the introduction: “His name was George F. Babbitt. He was forty-six years old now, in April, 1920, and he made nothing in particular, neither butter nor shoes nor poetry, but he was nimble in the calling of selling houses for more than people could afford to pay” (p. 1). Babbitt lives a life of dull, mind-numbing routine: “He who had been a boy very credulous of life was no longer greatly interested in the possible and improbable adventures of each new day” (p. 2). His relationships with his teenage children are tense and perfunctory, and his wife Myra “had become so dully habituated to married life that in her full matronliness she was as sexless as an anemic nun. She was a good woman, a kind woman, a diligent woman, but no one, save perhaps Tinka her ten-year-old, was at all interested in her or entirely aware that she was alive” (p. 5). Babbitt’s life is filled with the modern conveniences that early-20th-century American industrial mass culture could provide. America’s car culture comes in for particular attention, as the book’s narrator remarks that “To George F. Babbitt, as to most prosperous citizens of Zenith, his motor car was poetry and tragedy, love and heroism. The office was his pirate ship but the car his perilous excursion ashore” (p. 18). The Babbitts’ house, like George Babbitt's car, combines material affluence with spiritual emptiness. Lewis says of Babbitt that “the large national advertisers fix[ed] the surface of his life, fix[ed] what he believed to be his individuality. These standard advertised wares – toothpastes, socks, tires, cameras, instantaneous hot-water heaters – were his symbols and proofs of excellence; at first the signs, then the substitutes, for joy and passion and wisdom” (p. 78). Speaking with the analytical voice of a sociologist or anthropologist picking out the norms of a distant or long-ago culture, the narrator sums up by saying that “In fact, there was but one thing wrong with the Babbitt house: It was not a home” (p. 11). Mercilessly, Lewis anatomizes the self-righteous, virtue-signaling hypocrisy of Prohibition-era, middle-class American life. The narrator tells us that “Babbitt was virtuous. He advocated, though he did not practice, the prohibition of alcohol; he praised, though he did not obey, the laws against motor-speeding; he paid his debts; he contributed to the church, the Red Cross, and the Y.M.C.A.; he followed the custom of his clan and cheated only as it was sanctified by precedent” (p. 36). Feeling a certain restlessness, Babbitt plans a fishing trip in Maine with his friend Paul Riesling. Once his wife has agreed that he can leave the family to go off on this boys-only adventure, Babbitt reacts in a way that a first-time reader of the novel might find surprising: “For many minutes, for many hours, for a bleak eternity, he lay awake, shivering, reduced to primitive terror, comprehending that he had won freedom, and wondering what he could do with anything so unknown and embarrassing as freedom” (p. 108). The restlessness that prompted the fishing trip foreshadows the awakening of some stronger discontent within George Babbitt – a moment when he takes a self-aware look at his life and finds it profoundly lacking: He was conscious of life, and a little sad….[H]e beheld, and half admitted that he beheld, his way of life as incredibly mechanical. Mechanical business – a brisk selling of badly built houses. Mechanical religion – a dry, hard church, shut off from the real life of the streets, inhumanly respectable as a top-hat. Mechanical golf and dinner-parties and bridge and conversation. Save with Paul Riesling, mechanical friendships – back-slapping and jocular, never daring to assay the test of quietness….He saw the years, the brilliant winter days and all the long sweet afternoons which were meant for summery meadows, lost in such brittle pretentiousness. (p. 192) Here, the significance of all the references to the mechanical gadgets that fill the lives of the Babbitts and all the other middle-class business-economy citizens of Zenith becomes clear. The mechanical “conveniences” set the tone for a mechanical life in which the people have no more soul than the machines that supposedly “serve” them. He engages in some uncertain attempts at rebellion against the system in which he feels imprisoned – making friends with a labor leader, beginning a half-hearted affair with a woman whom he once helped to find an apartment – until “it came to him merely to run away was folly, because he could never run away from himself” (p. 249). And Babbitt is punished for his resistance to the system. For instance, in the midst of a city-wide strike he refuses to join a “Good Citizens League” whose members “agreed that the working-classes must be kept in their place; and all of them perceived that American Democracy did not imply any equality of wealth, but did demand a wholesome sameness of thought, dress, painting, morals, and vocabulary” (pp. 321-22); and his refusal to join the G.C.L. means that his real-estate enterprise begins losing business to competitors. Babbitt “admitted that he would like to flee back to the security of conformity, provided there was a decent and creditable way to return. But, stubbornly, he would not be forced back; he would not, he swore, ‘eat dirt’” (p. 311). Babbitt eventually ends his one-man rebellion, and is accepted back by the Zenith business establishment. But there is one final, surprising act on Babbitt’s part, when he sides with his son Ted at a crucial moment. It is moving to hear Babbitt admit to Ted, and to the reader, and to himself, that "I've never done a single thing I've wanted to in my whole life!" (p. 330). Even if he feels stuck in the conformity of his life, he does not want his children to suffer the same fate - and it is that element of change in Babbitt's sense of the world and his place in it that keeps the character of George F. Babbitt from being a cartoon cliche, and offers a cautious note of hope for the next generation. One hundred years after its composition, Babbitt remains as trenchant a critique of U.S. business culture as it ever was. Computerized voice-dictation systems may have taken the place of stenographers, and one mobile phone today can do more than a whole roomful of telephone operators could have done in 1922; but a system that valorizes capital acquisition for its own sake, that rewards the ability to “fit in” within corporate culture, that ruthlessly punishes anyone who steps outside of an invisible but firmly fixed set of rules, is still decidedly in place – “casual Fridays” or no. Babbitt provides a vital and much-needed opportunity for the thoughtful reader to question the norms of that system.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Duffy Pratt

    I rarely change my mind about a book based on the way it ends. With this book, I make an exception. I went through various phases with this book. To start, it seemed like a fun satire of one of the most shallow characters imaginable. George Babbit is a real estate man, utterly conventional, and without a thought or opinion of his own. He defines himself by the products he buys. He doesn't know what to think about something unless he's read the opinion in the editorials (conservative, of course). I rarely change my mind about a book based on the way it ends. With this book, I make an exception. I went through various phases with this book. To start, it seemed like a fun satire of one of the most shallow characters imaginable. George Babbit is a real estate man, utterly conventional, and without a thought or opinion of his own. He defines himself by the products he buys. He doesn't know what to think about something unless he's read the opinion in the editorials (conservative, of course). His chief concerns in life are fitting in and doing business, and that's about it. No hobbies. A drab family life with a wife he has never loved. Then I started to bog down and rather dislike the book. It was clear that Lewis hated all of his characters. It also seemed clear that he considered himself far superior to any of these boorish mid-Westerners. And he was pouring it on so hard. I couldn't see the point of it, or rather, I saw the point all too clearly, and I didn't get why he was going on and on. Worse, I had a suspicion that Lewis did not understand these characters all that well, and that's why the satire was so broad. Of course, there were Babbit's little doubts about his life, but these seemed always to extinguish themselves, and seemed largely to show that Babbit was a hypocrite on top of everything else. Then, the book changed and I realized that Lewis was writing about mid-life crisis before anyone invented the term. George goes through a bunch of changes in search of his lost youth. And at this point I thought the book was OK, and still had some fun moments. But here, his dissipation was altogether conventional. Instead of defining himself by one set, he started to define himself by another contrary set, and he was still acting as a conformist. But now he was conforming in a way that would lead to his self-destruction. I didn't know how Lewis would resolve it. I could see him destroying this character he seemed to hate from the start. Or I could see him giving up his dissipation and going back to his totally shallow, greedy, conventional life. And then I found myself liking the resolution. Babbit returns to his conventionality, but it's entirely outward. Along his misadventures, he has grown a conscience and learned how to think for himself. In some ways, I think this story is very much like Pinnochio. Babbitt starts out as a puppet who yearns to be human, and even though he ends up in roughly the same position at the end as when he started, in the process he grows up and gets a soul. In the end, I liked this book very much and thought it better than the other Lewis I've read (Main Street and Elmer Gantry).

  20. 5 out of 5

    Shaima Faisal

    "Same with you. All we do is cut each other's throats and make the public pay for it." “Babbitt” is a novel written by the American novelist Sinclair Lewis and was first published in 1922. It follows the story of the Babbitt family, specially George F. Babbitt, who lives in the city of Zenith, among a majority of middle-class Americans who aspire to live by certain standards that determine their social worthiness. Lewis tried through the character of George F. Babbitt to criticize the social life "Same with you. All we do is cut each other's throats and make the public pay for it." “Babbitt” is a novel written by the American novelist Sinclair Lewis and was first published in 1922. It follows the story of the Babbitt family, specially George F. Babbitt, who lives in the city of Zenith, among a majority of middle-class Americans who aspire to live by certain standards that determine their social worthiness. Lewis tried through the character of George F. Babbitt to criticize the social life in America and the fake relationships.. At the beginning of the story, Babbitt was desperately trying to rise his social rank in Zenith though business relationships and joining clubs, but he gradually expressed his dissatisfaction about standardization, capitalism, and materialism "They don't understand the complications of merchandizing and profit, the way we business men do, but sometimes I think they're about like the rest of us, and no more hogs for wages than we are for profits.”. I must say, the first 100-150 pages were boring and slow for me but the pace became faster gradually afterwards. Harry Sinclair Lewis was an American novelist, who in 1930, became the first writer from the United States to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, which was awarded "for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humor, new types of characters."

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bob Newman

    Peppy All-American Booster Weathers Mid-Life Crisis Sinclair Lewis and Thomas Hart Benton, the artist, were about the same age, they both focussed on the American Heartland, and as I read Lewis, I see that they both had something else in common. They both had a tendency to draw cartoonish characters. George F. Babbitt is the main character of a satire by the same name; you might even laugh aloud in some places. Lewis is skillful, but at times, heavy-handed. He has portrayed an average Joe of 1920 Peppy All-American Booster Weathers Mid-Life Crisis Sinclair Lewis and Thomas Hart Benton, the artist, were about the same age, they both focussed on the American Heartland, and as I read Lewis, I see that they both had something else in common. They both had a tendency to draw cartoonish characters. George F. Babbitt is the main character of a satire by the same name; you might even laugh aloud in some places. Lewis is skillful, but at times, heavy-handed. He has portrayed an average Joe of 1920, the pep- and vim-obsessed go-getting businessman who was the bedrock of our industrial age, hypocritical, materialist, crooked, conformist, even proto-fascist. Babbitt is a real estate agent, a family man surrounded by the wealth of material goods provided by thriving industrial capitalism. He belongs enthusiastically and unquestioningly to any organization dedicated to preserving his and his family's ready access to those goods---professional group (realtors association), Boosters, church, and set social circle. He spouts meaningless platitudes on every subject, knows nothing except the price of real estate and methods of collusion, and ignores his feelings, his family, and the rest of humanity, all the while believing that his city, state, and country are the best in the world. The first 90-odd pages of BABBITT are pure genius; one of the best character portraits you are likely to find in American literature---but it is a caricature after all. Lewis' choice of names underlines his cartoonish glee in writing this brilliant novel---Vergil Gunch, Professor Pumphrey, Chet Laylock, Matt Penniman, Muriel Frink, Opal Mudge, Carrie Nork, and Miss McGoun---names that could have been annexed years later by MAD magazine ! "Babbitt" has long been a word in American English, signifying a conforming materialist citizen without a mind of his own. Perhaps this is not entirely fair. George goes through a mid-life crisis, rebels against his static, materialistic life with its know-nothing attitudes, its moral certitudes, and its boring routines. His closest friend (aren't there certain unspoken overtones of homosexual love ?) commits a dastardly deed, breaking George's heart. "On the rebound", he meets the fantastically-named Tanis Judique, femme fatale à la Midwest. Certain consequences arise, Lewis brings in his ever-present fear of American fascist tendencies, and there's a rather hopeful ending, also in the American tradition even if not warranted. If you are looking for a place to begin reading Sinclair Lewis, BABBITT is an excellent choice. If you already know other Lewis novels, don't miss this one. I would say that with "Main Street", "Elmer Gantry" and "Dodsworth", BABBITT is at the solid gold core of Sinclair Lewis' work. He certainly did deserve that Nobel Prize.

  22. 5 out of 5

    ALLEN

    George F. Babbitt lives and works in the bustling (but fictional) midsize Midwestern burg of Zenith, Winnemac (loosely based on real-life Cincinnati, Ohio) in 1920. He's a middleman -- selling real estate for "more money than [his customers] could afford to pay." Every day he consults the most prestigious local newspaper to get his opinion "fix" for the day without always understanding how those opinions came to be. Babbitt went to a State University and depends on his underpaid secretary to fix George F. Babbitt lives and works in the bustling (but fictional) midsize Midwestern burg of Zenith, Winnemac (loosely based on real-life Cincinnati, Ohio) in 1920. He's a middleman -- selling real estate for "more money than [his customers] could afford to pay." Every day he consults the most prestigious local newspaper to get his opinion "fix" for the day without always understanding how those opinions came to be. Babbitt went to a State University and depends on his underpaid secretary to fix the spelling and grammatical errors in his sales letters. His circle of friends centers around his old State U cohort, his fellow World War One veterans, and other middle-aging Americans in Zenith's business community, those groups being nearly one and the same. Things follow the predictable (if, at Sinclair Lewis' hands, satirical) middling muddle until Babbitt's wife leaves town to care for a family member and all of a sudden things aren't so straight-and-narrow any more. This classic of American literature, published in 1922, may not be stylistically advanced (Hemingway complained in a letter to a friend that Lewis wrote "shitily"), but it is full of insight about the relentless vim and vigor of Twenties American business culture and the plight of one unremarkable man who finds himself lonely in a crowd. Sensationalistic news reporting, evangelists brought in by the business community ostensibly to 'sell' religion but really to quell labor dissent, even "church-growth campaigns," all get sent up here -- all this and more being still part of middle Americana. I cannot recommend this novel enough. Read Lewis's MAIN STREET to see how America was, but read BABBITT to see how America became what it is. updated June 14, 2018

  23. 4 out of 5

    BAM Endlessly Booked

    Classics Cleanup Challenge #4 Audio # 153

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Kortebein

    Smart. Witty. Utterly satirical. If this is the kind of book you like, read this one. Even if you don't, read this one. Often when you read stellar books, the end lets you down. Not this one. From the first page to the last, Lewis succeeds in relaying the story of everyday America. Babbitt is an average upper middle to middle class businessman who suddenly realizes that he wants so much more. He was kind of waylaid into a marriage, away from career ambitions (no, not by pregnacy, but by midweste Smart. Witty. Utterly satirical. If this is the kind of book you like, read this one. Even if you don't, read this one. Often when you read stellar books, the end lets you down. Not this one. From the first page to the last, Lewis succeeds in relaying the story of everyday America. Babbitt is an average upper middle to middle class businessman who suddenly realizes that he wants so much more. He was kind of waylaid into a marriage, away from career ambitions (no, not by pregnacy, but by midwestern niceness). In his struggles, whether it's from the nagging of his children or wife, the encounters with employees, his mistress or the other leaders of the busines community, Babbitt's is a struggle to maintain his sense of self against the pull of the populace. He wants to be different, but he's not smart. He doesn't have an opinion of his own. He's only too happy to go with the flow even to the end of making money by scurrious means. He is happy in having his little rebellion with his friend Paul - a would-have-been artist but much to the less accomplishment than Babbitt himself is a roof tar salesperson. He enjoyed having a person lower than himself, as it were. He wasn't what he wanted to be, but he was far better off than Paul. Still he finds real friendship in Paul, speaking like he can't to anyone else. Then, his world is shattered when Paul is arrested and jailed. This sends Babbitt careening down an unlikely path, a path that will lead him to a Bohemian crowd and mistress, losing his place in the business community and a certain stubborness that he will not be bullied. In the end, he comes full circle, returning to that same life and attitude, yet not at all the same. In his message to his son, which ends the book, he gives him the caveat of not following his dream. Yes, this is Babbitt. The man without an opinion of his own, without any real intellect or desire except to have money telling his son to follow his dreams unlike he did. This Babbitt is a hero. Lewis handles him not with kid gloves, but with backhanded compliments, soft rebukes and satire. Babbitt is compelling and real and as relevant to 1918 as he is to 2008. It's a definite must read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Janette

    First off, I'll say that Sinclair Lewis had a great writing style. Amazing description. Good characterization. But as far as I could tell (and okay, I only got through the second disk--1/6th of the book) there wasn't an actual plot to the story. Seriously, the guy woke up, shaved, had breakfast, and went to work. He dictated letters and bough a cigar lighter. That was pretty much it. I'm not sure why this book is a classic. Mostly I just wondered if everybody else's life was so petty and devoid o First off, I'll say that Sinclair Lewis had a great writing style. Amazing description. Good characterization. But as far as I could tell (and okay, I only got through the second disk--1/6th of the book) there wasn't an actual plot to the story. Seriously, the guy woke up, shaved, had breakfast, and went to work. He dictated letters and bough a cigar lighter. That was pretty much it. I'm not sure why this book is a classic. Mostly I just wondered if everybody else's life was so petty and devoid of meaning. If so, I'm sorry the-rest-of-the-world. Do something about that. Because my life is much better.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jason Pettus

    (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.) The CCLaP 100: In which I read for the first time a hundred so-called "classics," then write reports on whether or not they deserve the label Essay #55: Babbitt (1922), by Sinclair Lewis The story in a nutshell: The follow-up to his surprise smash bestseller Main Street, Sinclair Lewis' 1922 Babbitt is basica (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.) The CCLaP 100: In which I read for the first time a hundred so-called "classics," then write reports on whether or not they deserve the label Essay #55: Babbitt (1922), by Sinclair Lewis The story in a nutshell: The follow-up to his surprise smash bestseller Main Street, Sinclair Lewis' 1922 Babbitt is basically a continuation of his searing indictment regarding the hypocrisies inherent in middle-class Midwestern society in the years between World War One and the Great Depression, known to us now as the "Roaring Twenties" and which conjures up images of flappers, illegal hooch and fur-coat-wearing undergraduates. Set in the fictional mid-sized industrial powerhouse of Zenith, Winnemac*, it tells the story of one George Babbitt, a pudgy, milquetoast, pink-faced realtor who's the very living embodiment of everything Lewis hated, as we watch during the first half of this novel while he bumbles his way through a typical work week -- where appearances and superficialities count for everything, chamber-of-commerce boosterism has become the new state religion (and the Elks and Kiwanis the new churches), and even the slightest hint of labor reform is treated as a city-destroying godless communist threat that must be extinguished at all cost. Ah, but in the second half, we watch as a series of events call into question for Babbitt the infallibility of these former bedrocks in his life, including his best friend having a mental breakdown and shooting his wife, as well as an affair Babbitt himself embarks upon with a left-leaning bohemian; so when Babbitt starts appearing in public with these menaces to society, needless to say that his fellow community leaders don't react well at all, essentially forming a McCarthyesque morals organization for the sole purpose of bullying Babbitt back into the fold, or else face a near-total boycott of the properties he's currently trying to sell. His spirit broken, the dimwitted Babbitt is indeed brought back to the status quo by the end of the book, convincing himself that his former excursions into the wild side of life were foolish and that he had given them up voluntarily; but at least the novel ends on a hopeful note, as Babbitt ends up sticking up for his son's right to lodge petty protests against various details of his upcoming wedding, showing a spark of rebellion still buried deep in our genial antihero, leading us to only guess at how this might have manifested itself in him as the good times of the '20s gave way to the horrors of the '30s and '40s. The argument for it being a classic: Well, for starters, Lewis was one of the first Americans to ever receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, mostly for a string of unprecedented successes he had all through the 1920s, a whole series of bitter screeds about middle-class Protestant conformity that were (to the shock of everyone) eagerly eaten up in the millions by the very self-hating middle-class Midwesterners he was trashing, a whole string of bestsellers that each had a more contentious relationship with academes and especially the Pulitzer committee than it might seem at first. (Main Street actually won the award the year it came out, but then was revoked at the last second by conservative judges on a technicality and given to Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence instead; so when Lewis' next novel after this one, Arrowsmith, actually did win the Pulitzer for real, in a self-righteous huff he turned it down.) And indeed, as we approach the hundredth anniversary of his most well-known novels, it's becoming clear that Lewis drew the virtual blueprint for so much of the 20th-century literature that came after him, with a strong argument to be made that neither Tom Perrotta nor Jonathan Franzen would've even had careers if not for books like this one paving the way. An astute and slyly funny look at the psychologically corrosive nature of the safe and bland, and of just how much violence must be used to actually maintain this bland safety (a theme Lewis would ratchet up even more in such later novels as Elmer Gantry and It Can't Happen Here), fans argue that it's time we stand up and finally acknowledge just what an impact on the 20th-century arts Lewis had, a tremendously influential writer in his day who fell into obscurity during the Postmodernist era, but who deserves now to be acknowledged for the way he so deftly predicted how the rest of the "American Century" would proceed after his own time. The argument against: Critics of Babbitt -- and there's a lot of them -- would snort derisively after reading the above paragraph, and ask if they had actually read the same book that its fans had; because as far as they're concerned, the novel is nothing more than a tawdry bit of badly dated pop-culture, nearly impossible to even read just 89 years later because of the ridiculous amount of period slang used in its dialogue. (And indeed, it was this slang that made Lewis such a huge hit in Europe, where his books actually came with glossaries in the back.) And besides, they ask, should we really be honoring Lewis in the first place for inventing the now overused genre known as the Big Bad Suburbs? Hasn't this in fact turned into one of the most tired, hackneyed cliches in all of modern literature, and shouldn't we actually be cursing both Lewis and the snotty academes of Early Modernism (the first generation of academes to even acknowledge novels as actual art forms) for legitimizing something in the "serious" arts that should've never been legitimized in the first place? A sneakily commercial writer who was merely spoon-feeding the light punishment that a spoiled, corrupt, overly rich American middle-class wanted to foist on itself in the 1920s, in order to make itself feel better for being so spoiled and corrupt in the first place, critics claim that there's a very good reason Lewis' career collapsed and never recovered after the onset of the Great Depression, which is that his early hits were merely what people at that exact moment in history wanted to hear, not great works of literature unto themselves, making the idea of Babbitt being a timeless classic laughable at best. My verdict: Of the many surprises I've learned about literary history since starting this essay series, definitely one of them is just how far back the tradition goes of angry artists denouncing the sleepy, conforming nature of middle-class societies living on the edges of large urban centers, which if this were the Bible you could express along the lines of, "And thus did Gustave Flaubert begat Thomas Hardy, and thus did Hardy begat Sherwood Anderson, and thus did Anderson begat Lewis, and thus did Lewis begat John Cheever, and thus did Cheever begat American Beauty;" and that just unto itself makes Lewis fascinating and worth paying attention to, precisely because this was so thoroughly forgotten about him during the countercultural upheavals of the 1960s, '70s and '80s, when his scathing critiques disguised as white-guy rah-rahs fell out of favor with an artistic community seeking something radically different. But that said, what critics posit about Lewis' actual writing style is definitely true as well, and I confess that I found it a chore to even make it through Babbitt, despite being amazed at how relevant the storyline itself is to the exact times we're currently living in. So how exactly does one judge all this in the end? Certainly Lewis is an author just on the cusp of a big new historical reassessment and appreciation, as the slow increase of mentions of him you see these days in artistic circles attest; but certainly you should take the books themselves with a grain of salt, and understand that they were so fawned over at the time by academes and Europeans simply for the newness of the language he deployed, a running theme of Early American Modernism whether it's William Faulkner, Henry Miller or Ernest Hemingway you're talking about. And that's why today I am declaring Babbitt with a bit of hesitancy to indeed be a classic, at least for now, although caution readers that some of you might dislike this book rather intensely, yet another truism regarding so much of the work from this experimental period of arts history. All of these Jazz Age novels of Lewis' are worth visiting if you never have before (and especially Gantry, which virtually defined the tropes of every televangelist parody that's ever been written since), but don't complain to me if you get tripped up in his endless "23-skidoo" dialogue. Is it a classic? Just barely (And don't forget that the first 33 essays in this series are now available in book form!) *And in fact, it's the invention of the fictional Midwestern state Winnemac that might very well turn out to be Lewis' most lasting legacy, his brilliant solution for getting to trash the Midwest without any actual Midwesterners becoming offended; the setting for all his novels following Babbitt as well, it's located in a space that in real life comprises upper Indiana/Ohio and lower Michigan, with its largest city "Zenith" being a stand-in for any number of large Midwestern industrial centers around it, from Detroit to Cincinnati to Milwaukee to St. Louis. Ironically, despite how terribly he portrayed the citizens of Zenith, Midwestern cities in the 1920s used to have actual bragging contests over which of them was its real-life inspiration.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Caren

    I had never read anything by Sinclair Lewis, but he was put on my radar when it was mentioned in a library school class that the heroine of his book "Main Street" began her 'career' as a librarian. When I saw the audio version of "Babbitt" at the library, I decided to give it a listen. I was drawn in immediately by the detailed description of daily life in the USA in 1920. George F. Babbitt is a middle-aged realtor living in Zenith, a medium-sized town in middle America. Lewis' portrait of Babbi I had never read anything by Sinclair Lewis, but he was put on my radar when it was mentioned in a library school class that the heroine of his book "Main Street" began her 'career' as a librarian. When I saw the audio version of "Babbitt" at the library, I decided to give it a listen. I was drawn in immediately by the detailed description of daily life in the USA in 1920. George F. Babbitt is a middle-aged realtor living in Zenith, a medium-sized town in middle America. Lewis' portrait of Babbitt is a satirical portrait of the mindset of the average American in his day. Reading it, knowing the Depression is on the horizon, it seemed to coincide with the 1990s in our own generation, and seemed hauntingly familiar. You can stand back and see how Lewis is poking fun at Babbitt's ideas, yet as the story unfolds, you see that Lewis has great empathy for this American everyman. Above all, this book allows a fascinating peek into the world of my grandparents. I can recongnize some of the ideas as those I heard from them and from my parents. It is the thinking upon which, for better or worse, the current generation was built. Babbitt's fictitious town, Zenith, may have been modeled on Cincinnati, Ohio, where Lewis spent considerable time while researching the book. While listening, I used the notes in the "Library of America" printed version for some explanation of details unfamiliar to modern readers. Beyond the story itself, I found the ideas of people living in the 1920s and how these ideas have evolved in our own time, to be very interesting. The audio version I listened to was read by George Guidall and was extrememly well-done.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Though written in the 1920s, this book easily could have been written today. I'm amazed by how relatable, and familiar, it felt. Lewis captures a yearning that I think many people experience, and in his pitiable, unlikable hero, he descries the fate of modernity. I'd much rather have read this book than The Great Gatsby in high school. It is possible, however, that I wouldn't quite of understood it. The tone, irony, and poignancy in this book really struck me. I want to write a paper about it! D Though written in the 1920s, this book easily could have been written today. I'm amazed by how relatable, and familiar, it felt. Lewis captures a yearning that I think many people experience, and in his pitiable, unlikable hero, he descries the fate of modernity. I'd much rather have read this book than The Great Gatsby in high school. It is possible, however, that I wouldn't quite of understood it. The tone, irony, and poignancy in this book really struck me. I want to write a paper about it! Definitely one I will have to come back to in a few years.

  29. 5 out of 5

    K.M. Weiland

    I have been thoroughly enjoying my exploration of Lewis’s fiction, but now that I’ve reached Babbitt I see why it is considered his masterpiece. It is a tightly plotted, incisively character-driven, all-too-realistic journey through the quiet desperation of middle class life, led by a protagonist who is both revolting and utterly compelling.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cdrueallen

    BABBITT is the devastatingly funny yet still endearing portrait of George Babbitt, a suburban real estate broker who is 46 in 1920. It's fascinating and disturbing when reading BABBITT to realize how little American business, American marriages, and American men have changed in the past 91 years. In 1920 gas cost 31 cents a gallon, liquor was illegal though in plentiful supply, and the internet had yet to be imagined, but George's emotional mix of bluster, bullying, babyish pouting, and his desp BABBITT is the devastatingly funny yet still endearing portrait of George Babbitt, a suburban real estate broker who is 46 in 1920. It's fascinating and disturbing when reading BABBITT to realize how little American business, American marriages, and American men have changed in the past 91 years. In 1920 gas cost 31 cents a gallon, liquor was illegal though in plentiful supply, and the internet had yet to be imagined, but George's emotional mix of bluster, bullying, babyish pouting, and his desperate need to be loved and admired are all but eternal. He's Homer Simpson in frameless glasses and a well-cut gray suit. His world of new suburbs built over old orchards, shady real-estate deals, conventions and lunches at which the gold old boys puff themselves up, drink themselves silly, and rant about the union-loving socialists who are killing the country hasn't changed much either. The genius of BABBITT is that it evokes my compassion for the kind of man I fear and despise when I encounter him in daily life. BABBITT is usually described as an acutely observed but somewhat poorly written novel about business. I'd say it's a brilliantly written novel about American marriage, and the extension of the social contract of marriage to the larger framework of American social life. As in MAIN STREET and DODSWORTH, BABBITT's focus is on the marital power struggle, where one party strives to enforce conformity to a shallow social order and the other fights for a more meaningful life. In MAIN STREET the wife was the rebel. In BABBITT it's George who longs to flee from the boredom of business, church, golf, and middle-aged marriage to "darkness beyond mysterious groves" with a dream girl who is slim, pale, and eager. George's wife Myra represents the forces of habit, affection, and convention that keep George from pursuing his dreams. In MAIN STREET, Lewis's sympathies are with the artistic woman who's oppressed by marriage and a small town. In BABBITT, we get the husband's point of view on the marriage, but Lewis doesn't fail to observe said husband with an amusingly ironic wife-shaped eye. By the time he wrote DODSWORTH, Lewis had lost his ironic perspective and gone over to a whole-hearted defense of the alcoholic overbearing husband. Which makes BABBITT, where the author doesn't take sides as he describes George and Myra fighting for the upper hand, Lewis's masterpiece. BABBITT was criticized by Mark Schorer, Lewis's principal biographer, for its "aesthetic crudities"; by Edith Wharton, to whom BABBITT was dedicated, for its "excess of slang"; and by Gore Vidal for its lack of plot. Probably they were all a little shocked by the radical technical innovations of a best-selling author. BABBITT's plotless pastiche of voices, including voices from social classes not usually thought of (certainly not by aristocratic Ms. Wharton) as a proper subject for literature, prefigures the postmodern techniques of writers such as William Gaddis, Donald Barthelme, and William Burroughs. And Lewis's technique was no accident: as a man who'd made money selling plots to Jack London and had his most famous portrait done by Dadaist Man Ray Lewis certainly knew what he was doing when he structured BABBITT as a series of scenes that reveal George, mostly through dialogue, and from a succession of cubist angles. BABBITT resolves not with a dramatic climax but in an ironic circle when George, who in the first scene complains to his wife of a pain in his side that he thinks might be appendicitis, is in the end brought back to his marriage and his social group by his wife's operation for appendicitis. What's as remarkable as Lewis's technical innovations is that in spite of them BABBITT remains highly readable ninety years after it was written.

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