One of the books I have long believed influenced me the most in my early college years is Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis. It was published in 1922, with Sinclair Lewis in 1930 winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. I reread this novel last week and still find it an exceptionally powerful book.
I will not bore you with my particular experience and reaction to the book. But, the essence, in my view, for any reader is not to let yourself get so caught up on the conveyor belt of work and society with the result that you fail to follow the beat of your own drummer (as best you can). The pull of this conformist conveyor belt is persistent and insidious, as Babbitt experiences in this fine novel.
Here is a great excerpt from a discussion between Babbitt and his son Ted:
“Well—” Babbitt crossed the floor, slowly, ponderously, seeming a little old. “I’ve always wanted you to have a college degree.” He meditatively stamped across the floor again. “But I’ve never—Now, for heaven’s sake, don’t repeat this to your mother, or she’d remove what little hair I’ve got left, but practically, I’ve never done a single thing I’ve wanted to in my whole life! I don’t know’s I’ve accomplished anything except just get along. I figure out I’ve made about a quarter of an inch out of a possible hundred rods. Well, maybe you’ll carry things on further. I don’t know. But I do get a kind of sneaking pleasure out of the fact that you knew what you wanted to do and did it. Well, those folks in there will try to bully you, and tame you down. Tell ’em to go to the devil! I’ll back you. Take your factory job, if you want to. Don’t be scared of the family. No, nor all of Zenith. Nor of yourself, the way I’ve been. Go ahead, old man! The world is yours!”