Saturday, January 13, 2024

Third reading: D.W. Buffa on "Main Street"

D.W. Buffa's new novel is Lunatic Carnival, the tenth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. He has also published a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, most recently, America in the twentieth century, in Neumann's Last Concert.

Buffa writes a monthly review for the Campaign for the American Reader that we're calling "Third Reading." Buffa explains. "I was reading something and realized that it was probably the third time that I knew it well enough to write something about it. The first is when I read it when I was in college or in my twenties, the second, however many years later, when I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered, and the third when I knew I was going to have to write about it."

Buffa's "Third Reading" of Sinclair Lewis's Main Street begins:
At the beginning of his novel, Main Street, Sinclair Lewis insists that Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, the town he writes about, is like every other small town in America, its Main Street “the continuation of Main Streets everywhere.” Halfway through the novel, he tells us that Main Street is what, at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, American civilization has become, everything standardized, speech and manners sluggish, the desire to appear respectable the only desire publicly allowed, and the satisfaction anyone feels the contentment of “the quiet dead.” Lewis goes even further in his condemnation of the commercial society brought into being by the forces of industrialization:

“It is the prohibition of all happiness. It is slavery self-taught and self-defended. It is dullness made God.” The United States has taken as its principle mission to succeed Victorian England as the “chief mediocrity in the world.” It has done this extremely well; it “functions admirably in the large production of cheap automobiles, dollar watches, and safety razors.” But it wants more than this; it wants the whole world to agree that the purpose of human existence, the highest achievement of man, is to ride in cars and make advertising pictures of dollar watches, and “in the twilight to sit talking not of love and courage, but of the convenience of safety razors.” What the country has come to prize, to consider of preeminent importance, “is not the grand manner, the noble aspiration, the fine aristocratic pride, but cheap labor for the kitchen and rapid increase in the price of land.” Life has become prosaic; the poetry of life has disappeared.

Gopher Prairie, like all the other Midwestern small towns, is itself the creation of this new large scale production, “staked out on barren prairies as convenient points for future train halts….” These small towns are...[read on]
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Third Reading: Bread and Wine.

Third Reading: “The Crisis of the Mind” and A Man Without Qualities.

Third reading: Eugene Onegin.

Third Reading: The Collected Works of Thomas Babington Macaulay.

Third Reading: The Europeans.

Third Reading: The House of Mirth and The Writing of Fiction.

Third Reading: Doctor Faustus.

Third Reading: the reading list of John F. Kennedy.

Third Reading: Jorge Luis Borges.

Third Reading: History of the Peloponnesian War.

Third Reading: Mansfield Park.

Third Reading: To Each His Own.

Third Reading: A Passage To India.

Third Reading: Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Third Reading: The Letters of T.E. Lawrence.

Third Reading: All The King’s Men.

Third Reading: The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus.

Third Reading: Naguib Mahfouz’s novels of ancient Egypt.

Third Reading: Main Street.

--Marshal Zeringue