An Experiment in Criticism

I am so enjoying my time with C.S.Lewis. I try to spend time with him everyday; it soothes my soul. I have been surprised at how hard I have fallen into his thoughts and his words. I do believe the old cliché that it is all in the timing. If I had attempted this project of having a literary mentor last year or the year before I don’t think it would have hit as hard nor would it have worked. I need Lewis’s words for right now. I am currently reading The Great Divorce and An Experiment in Criticism. Both books have been an interesting read but the latter has piqued my interest. He snagged me in the very first chapter where he describes the differences between an unliterary reader and a literary reader.

“In the first place, the majority never read anything twice. The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers ‘I’ve read it already.’ 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.”

“Secondly, the majority do not set much store by reading. They turn to it as a last resource… But 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.”

“Thirdly, the first reading of some literary work is often, to the literary, an experience so momentous that only experiences of love, religion or bereavement can furnish a standard of comparison. Their whole consciousness is changed. They have become what they were not before. But there is no sign of anything like this among the other sort of reader.”

“Finally, 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 favorite lines and stanzas in solitude…They talk to one another about books, often and at length. The latter seldom think or talk of their reading.”

I must say that it is weird to be so fully understood by a man who has been dead for over 50 years. It is soothing, though, to know that there is at least one person who really ‘gets’ me.

Pop on over to LadyDusk for more thoughts and words on books and reading.

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9 Responses to An Experiment in Criticism

  1. ladydusk says:

    Sometimes I fee like I ebb and flow between a literary reader and a non-literary reader. There are times I just don’t want to read anything worthwhile, and sometimes that’s all I want to read. If I enjoy something, I always want to reread it, but it isn’t always a classic :/ … Thanks for linking in.

    • Dawn, I know that Lewis specifically listed classics as a source for the criteria of a literary reader but I don’t think you have to read just classics to be considered a literary reader. Some of the books that have deeply moved me, stayed with me and caused me to think deeply were not classics. I would classify them as literary fiction. Two that come to mind are ” The Unforgettable Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce and “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng. Those books are contemporary books but they struck deep with me. I read Harold a year and a half ago and I still think about him and his journey. I think if any book causes you to ponder beyond the pages then you can be considered a literary reader.

  2. Amy @ Hope Is the Word says:

    Wow! Thanks so much for sharing this! I’ll admit that I’ve fallen out of the habit of re-reading, mostly, I think, because there’s so much I HAVEN’T read. However, the other three points are descriptive of me.

    • I totally agree, Amy. I don’t do much re-reading because I keep seeing the teetering pile of all of the books that are waiting to be read. I am not a re-reader but the other points do apply to me as well.

  3. mystiewinckler says:

    I loved Experiment in Criticism! It made me want to be more of a literary reader. I can see the trends in myself – if I lived a solitary, single life I would definitely be a devoted literary reader – but I need to intentionally carve that space out for myself or it doesn’t happen as much as I need it to.

  4. Mystie, I agree that, as moms, we have to be intentional in finding time to be a literary reader. We are in the middle of break week so I am able to have lots of time to read but when we are in the middle of school, I have to juggle things around so I can spend some time with my books.

  5. Great quotes. His second point about reading in solitude is something that I am really discovering that I need. Since I have older kids I have been finding small times in the afternoon to just get out of the house read. For some reason if I try it at home everyone all of a sudden wants my attention. 🙂

  6. Love these words. Leisure and silence to read…so precious and so hard to acquire! I have purposed to read each night before bed because it seems to be one few times to really read.

  7. Yes, I am finding that with the growing of my children my reading habits have changed. I used to be able to read with silence after the kids were in bed but now the kids’ don’t go to bed until later so quiet reading before I go to bed is a thing of the past. As of late I haven’t been able to sleep well and I am finding that the reading in silence is taking place in the middle of the night. There is a plus side to insomnia. 🙂

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