A Literary Life

Long before the bane of cable television and the internet invaded our every waking moment C.S. Lewis commented that while most people inmodern industrial cultures are at least marginally able to read, they just don’t.  In his wise and wonderful book An Experiment in Criticism he said, “Themajority, though they are sometimes frequent readers, do not set much store byreading.  They turn to it as a lastresource.  They abandon it withalacrity as soon as any alternative pastime turns up.  It is kept for railway journeys, illnesses, odd moments ofenforced solitude, or for the process called reading oneself to sleep.  Theysometimes combine it with desultory conversation; often, with listening to theradio.  But literary people arealways looking for leisure and silence in which to read and do so with theirwhole attention.  When they aredenied such attentive and undisturbed reading even for a few days they feelimpoverished.”
Lewiswent further admitting that there is a profound puzzlement on the part of themass of the citizenry over the tastes and habits of the literate.  “It is pretty clear that the majority,”he wrote, “if they spoke without passion and were fully articulate, would notaccuse us of liking the wrong books, but of making such a fuss about any booksat all.  We treat as a mainingredient in our well-being something which to them is marginal.  Hence to say simply that they like onething and we another is to leave out nearly the whole of the facts.”
C.S.Lewis was the happy heir of a great tradition of books and the literarylife.  His brilliant writing—in hisnovels like The Lion, the Witch, and theWardrobe, The Screwtape Letters, and Perelandra,as well as in his nonfiction like TheFour Loves, Surprised by Joy, The Abolition of Man, and A Grief Observed—evidence voraciousreading.  He was born in 1898 anddied on this day in 1963, just seven days shy of his sixty-fifth birthday.  In the years in-between he became renownedas a popular best-selling author, a brilliant English literary scholar andstylist, and one of the foremost apologists for the Christian faith.  Recalling his formative childhoodyears, he wrote, “I am the product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms,upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises ofgurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles.  Also, of endless books.”
Throughouthis life, Lewis celebrated everything that is good and right and true about theliterary life.  The result was thathe was larger than life in virtually every respect.  Though he knew that this was little more than a peculiarityin the eyes of most, he did not chafe against it.  Instead, he fully embraced it.  He explained, “Those of us who have been true readers allour life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we oweto authors.  We realize it bestwhen we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tinyworld.  In it, we should besuffocated.  The man who is contentedto be only himself, is in a prison. My own eyes are not enough for me. I will see through those of others.”  This is because, he argued, “Literary experience heals thewound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality.  Here, as in worship, in love, in moralaction, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than whenI do.”

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