The Reading Life: The Joy Of Seeing New Worlds Through Others’ Eyes, by C.S. Lewis
One of the fates of any author worth reading is that when they are gone, their works are repackaged in endless ways for others to enjoy and to preserve the profitability of bodies of work for years and decades and generations to come. And I might have a problem with this, seeing as it is that C.S. Lewis died on the same day that JFK was assassinated and so has not had any new works for a long time, but when books are as good as this one is and so easy to enjoy and with sentiments so noble about a subject–reading and the reading life–that I care so much about and am so personally devoted to, why would I complain that this is merely one of any number of repackaging of the author’s thinking about subjects. This book is a reminder to the reader, if any reminder is necessary, that C.S. Lewis thought deeply about books, and that it is very likely that his deep thinking about books influenced his deep thinking about many other subjects. And if the editors of this book are less keen than they might be about his insights about Christianity, Lewis’ view of books was profoundly influenced by his view of Christ as Logos and in the importance of reading in understanding the way of God. A love of books sprang naturally for Lewis–and for others as well–from the Book that he held most dear of all, and a high respect for the Author gave him an interest in many an author as well.
This book is a short one at just over 150 small pages, and is made up of a variety of selections from Lewis’ writings that has been divided into two parts. The book begins with a preface that discusses Lewis as a well-known reader with a sharp memory but a fondness for rereading good books (a fondness I happen to share). The first part of the book discusses the art and joy of reading, including his thinking about true readers, reading as time travel, reading for children, growing up among books, the problems of adaptations, saving words from being mere words of praise or disdain, the achievements of J.R.R. Tolkien, and the dangers of confusing saga and history. The second part of the book consists of short readings on reading, which include some of Lewis’ thoughts on word combinations, sincerity and talent, prose style, pleasure in reading, originality, the problems of being up-to-date, keeping up, wide tastes, being free to read and free to skip, reading and experience, Jane Austin, talking about books, Dante, Alexander Dumas, fairy tales, Plato and Aristotle, Shakespeare (and Hamlet in particular), Leo Tolstoy, and advice for writing as well as good reading. The book then ends with an appendix that contains journal exercises for reflecting on one’s reading life.
One of the aspects of this book that is particularly interesting is the way that Lewis, a man who had a certainly set of very strong opinions, beliefs, and worldviews, enjoyed reading because it allowed him to see things through the eyes of another. If he was highly critical of the sloppy thinking of his age (which is certainly not unfamiliar with the sloppy thinking of our own age), he saw as the solution to that more sound thinking, particularly from viewpoints in the past that would be clear-sighted with regards to the popular and common errors of the age. This is a sound approach overall, as one does not have any idea of the level of options that are mentally available until one moves beyond that thinking which is influenced most strongly by one’s age and reflects upon the past and takes it seriously, recognizing that a great much more is human and entirely reasonable to humans than one might think of one knows one’s own age and its own prejudices alone. Reading is one of the cures to chronological snobbery if one does it well, and with Lewis as a guide to reading, one is likely to stumble upon a great deal of the fascinating writings of the past that can serve to illuminate our own dark times.