Thursday, June 7, 2007

Sinclair Lewis Will Be Read Until Year 2000 (1936)

The December 5, 1936 Chicago Daily Tribune ran a short article titled, "Sinclair Lewis Put First As Author to be Read Until 2000." Below is the article in its entirety. I've added links to the Wikipedia page for each author mentioned.

Sinclair Lewis is the American author of the present day whose books are most likely to continue to be read in the year 2000, is the verdict of subscribers to The Colophon, a book collectors' quarterly, who were asked by its editors to vote on the question of literary survival. Only living American authors were included.

Next to Mr. Lewis, whose point score was 332, comes Willa Cather with a point score of 304. These are the only authors who exceed a 300 batting average.

Eugene O'Neill with 292 points and Edna St. Vincent Millay with 205 come next, followed by Robert Frost, 180; Theodore Dreiser, 149; James Truslow Adams, 115; George Santayana, 113; Stephen Vincent Benet, 91, and James Branch Cabell, 90.


Anonymous said...

Interesting to think of some of the writers of 1936 who didn't even register, yet are widely read nowadays: H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Dashiel Hammett, Raymond Chandler...

Jim Cambias

Anonymous said...

Or Ernest Hemingway, or William Faulkner, or F. Scott Fitzgerald...

(And I immediately thought of Lovecraft first, too. But I'm surprised at how the above mainstram authors were left off the list. Though his literary star has cooled critically in recent years, from the 1950's to 1980's or so, Hemingway was considered by many the absolute, unarguable Greatest Writer of the Twentieth Century and fiction was frequently deemed good or bad upon how much it utilized his style.)

Anonymous said...

No generation is particularly good at picking what art will be carried on by future generations. Casablanca and Blade Runner both lost out in terms of critical reviews and popularity when they first came out, yet now are looked upon as classics. William Blake didn't get popular until about fifty years after he died. And who (aside from die-hard, 19th-century-focused English professors and students) still reads James Fenimore Cooper and Herman Melville?

No one's going to remember John Grisham in a century, either. (But please don't tell him I said that.)

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to know how the survey was conducted.

Were readers asked for their suggestions? Or were they ranking from a list of well known writers?

It is odd that Fitzgerald was not near the top. But the Jazz Age wasn't a real pleasant memory during the depression.

Sinclair Lewis? Uneven! He is almost unread today. But his best really captured a time and place. In 1936 many still knew that.

These reference threads always attract people who really love literature so I always put in a plug for Frank Norris.

Anonymous said...

Of the popular authors of the time, Pearl S. Buck is still read, albeit mostly by literature buffs. Steinbeck is well thought-of, but again mostly by the literary crowd. Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind" is much more popular as a film than a book. And who reads anything by Hervey Allen, even though he had the best-selling book two years in a row in the mid-30's?
Popularity is fleeting. Quality endures, but is sometimes relegated to a rather dusty shelf.

Anonymous said...

they really hit the nail on the head with this one, i can't put down any of willa cather's works and read them to my kids as bedtime stories. timeless!

Anonymous said...

The big miss was Fitzgerald. Almost all of his stuff had been published by 1936, but as another poster noted, he was seen as a relic of the 1920s.

Hemingway was in mid-career in '36. Of the four works he is most remebered for two had been published: THE SUN ALSO RISES and A FAREWELL TO ARMS. But FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS and THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA were yet to come.

Faulkner had written some of the books he is remembered for, but many were yet to come.

Steinbeck had published some books, but these were not the ones commonly read today. OF MICE AND MEN, his first real classic came the next year, 1937.

Lovecraft and R.E. Howard hadn't even been published in book form.

Speaking of Hervey Allen, about 20 years ago I read ANTHONY ADVERSE in a falling apart copy I bought for 10 cents. Best value for a dime I ever got.

Scott Haley said...

Ryabovsky asked who still reads Melville. Coincidentally, I just heard a lady on the radio today talking about how much she loves the novel _Moby Dick._ Penn Jillette says that he reads it every year, and he wears a white whale necklace. They talked about "Billy Budd" on "The Sopranos."