Tuesday, January 28, 2020

C.S. Lewis on reading

Alan Jacobs links to "an annotated anthology I was invited to edit — and then disinvited," consequently unfinished, but what he did finish would be interesting to anyone who reads and who enjoys C.S. Lewis.
.... But this man who could take delight in old books, old poems, that few others could read except as a matter of scholarly duty and under duress, was also a lifelong lover of children’s books. “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” And in the last scholarly book he published in his lifetime, An Experiment in Criticism (1961), he celebrated and defended once more the child’s way of reading.
As there are, or were, families and circles in which it was almost a social necessity to display an interest in hunting, or county cricket, or the Army List, so there are others where it requires great independence not to talk about, and therefore occasionally to read, the approved literature, especially the new and astonishing works, and those which have been banned or have become in some other way subjects of controversy. Readers of this sort … are entirely dominated by fashion…. Yet, while this goes on downstairs, the only real literary experience in such a family may be occurring in a back bedroom where a small boy is reading Treasure Island under the bed-clothes by the light of an electric torch.
Few indeed are the scholars — fewer still the great scholars, and Lewis was indisputably a great scholar — who could write so passionately in defense of the way he read when he was a small child, or who could enjoy The Wind in the Willows as much at age sixty as he had at age ten. This distinctive ability to read in so many ways, and for so many reasons, is what makes Lewis such a wonderful guide to the world of reading. ....

Lewis’s letters are full of accounts of the re-reading of his favorite books — a habit that those for whom adding to their list of Books Read is a major incentive to picking up a book cannot readily understand. For Lewis it was a practice so deeply ingrained that he felt it had to be restrained. When he reviewed The Lord of the Rings (which perhaps he should not in good conscience have done, given his intimacy with its author, but we’ll set that aside for now) he commented that “the book is too original and too opulent for any final judgment on a first reading. But we know at once that it has done things to us. We are not quite the same men. And though we must ration ourselves in our re-readings, I have little doubt that the book will soon take its place among the indispensables.” ....  (more)

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