C.S. Lewis is one of the greatest authors of the 20th century. Part of the Inklings circle of writers, he’s best known for his Christian writings. From biblical criticism, to science fiction, to the afterlife and applying hyperdimensionality to prayer, Lewis consistently could tackle complicated subjects in an intellectually brisk but accessible manner.
Which makes The Reading Life such a disappointment.
The Reading Life is a book compiled from the writings of C.S. Lewis. But it’s not a book written by C.S. Lewis. Life was compiled from other works that Lewis wrote, sometimes articles and sometimes excerpts from books. This means that while Life is a collection of interesting things about reading, it is not laid out in a way that helps to organizer the thoughts or build an argument — or at least, not laid out as well as Lewis would have done.
Much of The Reading Life are things that Lewis enjoys about reading — which is great, someone should enjoy his hobby, but there’s no argument beyond that. Both when I read Life, and when I read reactions to it, it feels more like inspirational snippets validating reading than a reason to actually read. And that may entirely be the point — Lewis loved reading, and he wished to defend his past time for the benefit of others who loved to read. These sections of the book were easiest for me to understand if I mentally substituted “reading” with “bicycling” in most passages.
I enjoyed the section on fairy tells, which feels like the most persuasive of the chapters. When we grow up we put away childish things, such as a concern for appearing to be childish in our choice of entertainment. The cultural war’s current focus on science fiction and fantasy, and attacks against in-depth reviews of fantasies like Star Wars, should be seen in this context.
A much better defense of reading, also assembled from Lewis, is Zach Kinkaid’s article “A Reading Life,” available at cslewis.com.
Some of the “chapters” are good. But start your journey into C.S. Lewis’ writings elsewhere.
I read The Reading Life by C.S. Lewis in the Audible edition.