C. S. Lewis, The Reading Life, edited by David C. Downing and Michael G. Maudlin, London: William Collins, 2019.

By the age of ten, C. S. Lewis had read Milton’s Paradise Lost; by the age of twenty, the modern humanities student is weighed down with Deconstructionism and Gender Studies. Lewis aimed to remember what he read, and largely succeeded; the modern humanities student aims to know how to look up things on Google.

All of this can be overstated, but the humanities in the universities are in serious trouble, and have been for many decades. Lewis’ words are well worth contemplating:

In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.

He always contended that ‘It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.’ It is not that previous ages were better, but they were different. We are always most blind to the faults of our own culture.

There are serious implications for society at stake here. Lewis warned that  ‘Men do not long continue to think what they have forgotten how to say.’ George Orwell said much the same thing. Lewis was invariably a breath of fresh air in his writing – as Orwell often was too. In Lewis’ estimation, ‘No man who values originality will ever be original. But try to tell the truth as you see it, try to do any bit of work as well as it can be done for the work’s sake, and what men call originality will come unsought.’

If you ever want to read a book because it is a good book, this collection of Lewis’ writings will be a stimulus to you.

 – Peter Barnes

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