Last week, Amazon was offering several of C.S. Lewis’s non-fiction literary/criticism kindle books for sale. As I still had some money on an Amazon gift card and there were several of these that neither my library or I have, I decided to purchase them while I could afford to do so. One of the books was An Experiment in Criticism. This was one that I had read many years ago but I had forgotten everything in it so I opted to start with it. Wow, what riches. Lewis is so readable!
The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers ‘I’ve read it already’ to be a conclusive argument against reading a work.
Those who read great works, on the other hand, will read the same work ten, twenty or thirty times during the course of their life.
the majority, though they are sometimes frequent readers, do not set much store by reading. They turn to it as a last resource. They abandon it with alacrity as soon as any alternative pastime turns up.
literary people are always looking for leisure and silence in which to read and do so with their whole attention. When they are denied such attentive and undisturbed reading even for a few days they feel impoverished.
I was happy to determine from the first chapter that I fall into the Lewis’s category of a literary [woman]. I read and I re-read; reading is usually my first resort, not my last thought; and I purposely carve out time for reading or else I feel not just impoverished, but starved.
Finally, and as a natural result of their different behaviour in reading, what they have read is constantly and prominently present to the mind of the few, but not to that of the many. The former mouth over their favourite lines and stanzas in solitude. Scenes and characters from books provide them with a sort of iconography by which they interpret or sum up their own experience. They talk to one another about books, often and at length.
Do you do this? Think about the characters and favorite passages and copy down beautiful prose to remember and re-read and talk about books whenever you can find a fellow literary person? Working in the library has been such a blessing as I am surrounded by people who love reading and books as much as I do and who are always ready and willing to discuss books in general as well as specific titles they have been reading. Bliss!
Now the true reader reads every work seriously in the sense that he reads it whole-heartedly, makes himself as receptive as he can. But for that very reason he cannot possibly read every work solemnly or gravely. For he will read ‘in the same spirit that the author writ’. What is meant lightly he will take lightly; what is meant gravely, gravely. He will ‘laugh and shake in Rabelais’ easy chair’ while he reads Chaucer’s faibliaux and respond with exquisite frivolity to The Rape of the Lock. He will enjoy a kickshaw as a kickshaw and a tragedy as a tragedy. He will never commit the error of trying to munch whipped cream as if it were venison.
This is true! I read very differently depending on the genre. I read some books slowly, savoring every word, copying bits down in a commonplace book, telling everyone I can about how wonderful it is. Other books, I gobble like cotton candy–it tastes good for the moment but melts away almost immediately. Then there are the meaty, thoughtful books that take time and effort and attention but are so worthwhile.
I think the two kinds of readers are already foreshadowed in the nursery.
Hmmm. An interesting thought. I know that I was always this way but I wonder if it is innate or environmental or a little bit of both.
One last quote:
There are those who read only when there is nothing better to do, gobble up each story to ‘find out what happened’, and seldom go back to it; others who reread and are profoundly moved.
There are books to be gobbled and not revisited but the best books, the worthwhile books, are ones to be read and re-read, pondered and meditated upon, copied and discussed.
What worthwhile book are you reading right now?