Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

First read: 12/2002
Reviewed on: 12/20/2002
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I did not like it.
I liked it.
I thought it one of the Best Novels of All Time

Did you like Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River Anthology? I did. I remember Mrs. Dedrick going on about how great it was when she assigned us to read it in high-school, and it actually lived up to her enthusiasm. Winesburg, Ohio reminded me of Spoon River, only the people involved were alive, not dead, and the format was prose, not poetry. Well, that's not quite true - the writing was close to poetry. Good poetry.

Nine months ago, I started D.H. Lawrence's The Rainbow. At one point I mislaid the book, and had no desire to find a new copy. Then I found it, read more, lost it, and didn't have a desire to find it again. I've been reading a lot of books, none of them on the "Top 100", and I've been quite happy. I've read political books that made me angry, nonfiction that made me question my views on reality (Hi, John McWhorter!), books that made me laugh, books that touched me, and books that made me want to die (that would be the textbook for the linear algebra course I taught this semester).

I was looking for something to read, and Winesburg was on my shelf, and so I took it down and read it while proctoring final exams. I knew nothing about it when I started, but it turned out to be an ideal proctoring book - a series of vignettes that offered ample breaks for me to walk around the room, looking scary. Some characters appeared in more than one story, but never in a cutesy or clever-clever way. George Willard appeared in all of them, and he was supposed to (I think) be the protagonist, but I thought he was the least interesting character (pretty much a literary device) and the book would have been fine without him.

Anderson uses the word "adventure" many times in his book, never using the word to describe an event that most authors would call an "adventure." But most people don't go around setting buildings on fire, robbing banks, chasing people who rob banks, being mistaken for an international terrorist. But people do things that they would normally consider unthinkable - and these "adventures" can be very important to them. Anderson understands this idea, and is able to convey it without being condescending. He never gives you the feeling of "look at the little common-person having his teeny version of an adventure." He makes you understand.

When I graduated from High School, Amy Louis (our saludictorian or valedictorian, I forget which and I'm not even sure of the difference between them) gave one of the better speeches I have ever heard. She talked about epiphanies. Amy was also a person who understood people - her speech conveyed ideas that I had never heard vocalized before or since, until I read Winesburg. Most of the short-stories involve some character having an epiphany, the ramifications of which are either stated or implied. We care because the characters are real. In only two pages Anderson makes us interested in them as human beings. Most of the characters don't have any really blatant "Character Traits" (although some do) yet they are all very distinct individuals.

And the writing is beautiful. Just beautiful. I am so glad I picked this one up.

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