All My Road Before Me: The Diary Of C.S. Lewis 1922-1927, edited by Walter Hooper
How would I feel if someone had taken my Livejournal and Blogger posts as a young adult and compiled them into a large book in which insight was drawn about the way I discussed what was going on in my life? The bigger question is, would anyone bother either to do that sort of thing or to read it? This book only exists because C.S. Lewis later became a world-famous writer of several genres of literature. At the time this diary takes place, Lewis was an undergraduate and then a graduate student at Oxford and the published author of two reasonably well-reviewed but seldom read books of poetry. Obviously afterward a great deal happened, but as of these diary entries little hint of what is to come can be revealed, although the author’s general approach to peacemaking, his hard work, his broad base of knowledge, and his immensely wide reading are all in evidence. The root causes of his later excellence as a writer are easy enough to recognize, and Lewis already shows himself to be friends with Owen Barfield and J.R.R. Tolkien (who starts appearing in 1926), which should also increase the interest in this book.
This book is more than 450 pages long and deals with the period of Lewis’ life between 1922 and 1927. There is quite a difference in the beginning and the end of this book. At the beginning of the book, the author is a young man who had experienced war but was still an undergraduate being supported by his father while also lying about his living situation (which his father would have strongly disapproved of, considering his son the sort to be taken advantage of by artful women) and beginning work on his poem Dymer. Most of the book is made up of his more voluminous diary entries as an undergraduate in 1922 and 1923. By later years he was more busy and wrote less often, with large gaps between entries. But by the end of these entries, Lewis has a good job that earns him at last 500 pounds a year and that allows him to support his household without problems, and his father has died and Dymer has been published (if not widely read), and Lewis is well on his way to becoming the author that he would be known to be. We can see as well that some of his blind spots (his lack of understanding of women, his general lack of experience with the world as a whole) came from his experiences as a poor young adult who missed out on the chance to study and travel abroad and learn more modern languages and see life in other places than English male-dominated academic spaces. If you are a student of Lewis’ writings, this book gives a good look at Lewis the man.
It should be admitted that Lewis does not always come off in a good light here. He has a bit of a waspish sense of humor sometimes, and a lot of the book consists of fretting about money, casual dishonesty towards his father regarding his living situation, or dealing with school drama in the competition over limited positions in academia. Likewise, the author is always looking for reviews for his books and wanting his writing to be published. I’m not saying I can’t identify with the author–quite the contrary–I’m just saying that if the author had not wound up to be a world famous theologian, literary scholar, speculative fiction author, and children’s author, this book would neither be published nor read. But fortunately for us Lewis did become much more famous and this book is still very interesting and worthwhile, even if much of it is relentlessly quotidian and focused on Lewis’ home life and what plays and concerns he goes to and what books he reads and who he talked to at some Oxford pub and how he felt about his essays in class, and so on. I cared about these things enough as a student to write about them as well, but it is always hard to know how much others care about such things.