Last night, as part of my five-year plan to read the Essentials, I started Main Street, Sinclair Lewis’ 1920 satire of small-town life in the Midwest. I didn’t get too far before I bonded with the author’s irascibility.
In 1937, his publisher asked him to write a new introduction to the book and Lewis reluctantly complied:
I must, says the publisher of this edition of Main Street, write an introduction; and what, he suggests, with the blandness characteristic of all publishers urging slothful writers to their task, would I like to say about the opus? What would I like to say? Nothing whatever! To me (and I think to most writers) there is no conceivable subject so uninteresting as one’s own book, after you have finished the year of ditch-digging and bricklaying, read the proofs with the incessant irritation of realizing how much better you might have said this or that if you had had another year, then fretted over the reviews—equally over those in which you are hoisted to the elevation of world master, and those in which you are disclosed as a hypocritical illiterate.So true, so true. We write our books, we wish them well, but then we give them only occasional glances in the rear-view mirror as they shrink to the size of dots in the terrain behind us. We press our foot to the accelerator, speeding toward the next thing, hoping to outrun the books behind us.
Or maybe that’s just me.