Catalogue


The death and life of Main Street : small towns in American memory, space and community /
Miles Orvell.
imprint
Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, c2012.
description
xiii, 286 p., [12] p. of plates : ill. (chiefly col.) ; 25 cm.
ISBN
0807835684 (cloth : alk. paper), 9780807835685 (cloth : alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, c2012.
isbn
0807835684 (cloth : alk. paper)
9780807835685 (cloth : alk. paper)
catalogue key
8620872
 
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
Excerpts
Flap Copy
For more than a century, the term "Main Street" has conjured up nostalgic images of American small-town life. Representations exist all around us, from fiction and film to the architecture of shopping malls and Disneyland. All the while, the nation has become increasingly diverse, exposing tensions within this ideal. In Main Street, Miles Orvell wrestles with the mythic allure of the small town in all its forms, illustrating how Americans continue to reinscribe these images on real places in order to forge consensus about inclusion and civic identity, especially in times of crisis.
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2012-06-18:
In this thought-provoking study, Temple University English and American studies professor Orvell (American Photography) examines cultural myths, simplifications, and media images of Smalltown, U.S.A. According to Orvell, the small town is "both place and an idea," with advocates and detractors imbuing it with their own value judgments and imposing a simplistic one-size-fits-all dogma on the diversity and complexity of genuine smalltown life. Though Sinclair Lewis's Main Street "shatter[ed] the complacency of small-town America" in 1920, Main Street came to occupy "a mythic plane" in the 1930s and 1940s. Orvell reviews economic and technological innovations, ranging from mail-order catalogues and rail shipping to the social impact of the automobile. More recently, the New Urbanism movement sees the "warm and fuzzy memories of the past" as a legitimate model for new communities. As Orvell notes, these memories often deliberately ignore lynchings and exclusionary practices. He astutely observes that the smalltown myth "nurture[s] a sense of community in a society that is otherwise a scene of fragmentation and social disintegration." Illus. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Appeared in Choice on 2013-04-01:
Orvell (English and American studies, Temple Univ.) presents an intriguing view of American identity through the prism of Main Street, small town, and community. The most interesting aspect is his description of the mythical Main Street as a nostalgic representation of the core of the US. In addition, Orvell discusses Main Street through fiction, such as Sinclair Lewis's 1920 novel, Main Street, and successfully uses this approach as a connecting terminus of the perceived small-town US. The author further presents a convincing argument that the 1940 play Our Town was constructed "as an epitome of democracy." He also investigates community planning from before to after WW II, including the Levittowns and the more recent "new urbanism" communities such as Disney's Celebration, Florida, and their attempt to create small-town life. In the last couple of chapters, the book tends to lose focus on Main Street, but not on community. Nonetheless, there is much to admire, and the book is full of wonderful photographs. Orvell utilizes an interdisciplinary approach, and the book should be valuable to historians, historical geographers, and sociologists who focus on community. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-level undergraduates and above. R. D. Screws Minot State University
Reviews
Review Quotes
"An eye-opening exploration of the mythology and culturally laden concepts behind small towns and Main Street." - The Annals of Iowa
"An invigorating kaleidoscopic tour as different elements pop into prominence in different chapters. . . . A fascinating exploration of the transformation of the small town in the national imagination from slough of black-slapping mediocrity to embodiment of democratic virtue." - Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
"Bold and provocative. Orvell shows how Main Street as an ideology has been suffused with the values of consumerism, thus undercutting the personal bonds originally associated with the term."--Howard Gillette Jr., Rutgers University-Camden
"Highly recommended. Upper-level undergraduates and above." - Choice
"In this clear-eyed and lively history of one of the most enduring icons of American life, Miles Orvell shows how Main Street as a concept has simultaneously attracted and repelled Americans, offering them both an imaginary homeland and a spiritual wasteland. While some have yearned to "get back" to the supposed innocence and small-town virtues of Main Street,others have decried its suffocating conformity. Orvell brilliantly reconsiders such figures as Walt Whitman, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Sinclair Lewis, Frank Capra, Norman Rockwell, Robert and Helen Lynd, and Jane Jacobs, whose famous disquisition on the American metropolis Orvell alludes to in his title. This book shows why exiles on Main Street, along with more contented inhabitants, can never let it go." -David M. Lubin, Wake Forest University
"Miles Orvell examines the American Main Street as both history and ideology, as both a visual convention and a controversial symbol, as the lost space of the past and a source of inspiration for new urban experiments. Throughout, this book is a tour de force of interdisciplinary research and an exemplary work in American Studies." -Professor David E. Nye, author of American Technological Sublime
"Thought-provoking." - Publishers Weekly
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, June 2012
Choice, April 2013
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
For more than a century, the term "Main Street" has conjured up nostalgic images of American small-town life. Representations exist all around us, from fiction and film to the architecture of shopping malls and Disneyland. All the while, the nation has become increasingly diverse, exposing tensions within this ideal. In Main Street , Miles Orvell wrestles with the mythic allure of the small town in all its forms, illustrating how Americans continue to reinscribe these images on real places in order to forge consensus about inclusion and civic identity, especially in times of crisis. Orvell underscores the fact that Main Street was never what it seemed; it has always been much more complex than it appears, as he shows in his discussions of figures like Sinclair Lewis, Willa Cather, Frank Capra, Thornton Wilder, Margaret Bourke-White, and Walker Evans. He argues that translating the overly tidy cultural metaphor into real spaces--as has been done in recent decades, especially in the new urbanist planned communities of Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Andres Duany--actually diminishes the communitarian ideals at the center of this nostalgic construct. Orvell investigates the way these tensions play out in a variety of cultural realms and explores the rise of literary and artistic traditions that deliberately challenge the tropes and assumptions of small-town ideology and life.
Table of Contents
Prefacep. ix
Introductionp. 1
Main Street Mythologiesp. 13
Fighting Extinction: The Reinvention of Main Streetp. 47
Living on Main Street: Sinclair Lewis and the Great Cultural Dividep. 72
Main Street as Memoryp. 100
Main Street: Belonging and Not Belongingp. 130
Utopian Dreams: From Forest Hills to Greenbeltp. 149
Rethinking Suburbia: Levittown or the New Urbanism?p. 184
Main Street in the Cityp. 215
Conclusion: Consuming Main Streetp. 235
Notesp. 243
Indexp. 269
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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