Why C.S. Lewis Says My Reading Program is Wrong, or What Cheese has to do with Reading

beautiful bookshelf designThis year on A Pilgrim in Narnia we have been doing some thinking about programs for reading great books:

I am a list-driven reader. I like logging my works on Goodreads, and use an excel sheet to keep track of the books and essays I read. My bulletin board has certain lists I’m going through: top 20th c. SF books, top 20th c. Fantasy books, Discworld, Harold Bloom’s Essential List, a World Fantasy Conference List, everything C.S. Lewis wrote, and a list of key Christian books. I am slowly going through these lists, book by book, and hope to be done around 2030 or so, provided no one writes anything good between now and then.

SarahsBooks LabyrinthAll of this is part my attempt to struggle with the Western canon–the essential books that have shaped our culture. Really, I’m making up for severe lack of education I received growing up, filling in great gaps in my cultural bookshelves. I am missing amazing stories, and I want them all.

C.S. Lewis was often writing to people about what books to read. He argued for a certain approach to reading and research in the university context, and his own reading is sprawled across the centuries and over great lands. So, I thought I would turn to Lewis’ letters to see if he ever talked about a canon of literature, the ultimate to-read list. Here is what he wrote to American correspondent looking for a list of books that college students should read.

collected letters cs lewis volume 3 ed by walter hooperC.S. Lewis’ response shows why my approach to reading is almost entirely wrong.

As from Magdalene College
Cambridge
25 Aug 59

Dear Mr. Metcalf

I don’t feel at all qualified to contribute to a ‘master’ list of writings. The languages I don’t know are of course very much more numerous than those I know; and even in the languages I do know there are a great many books I have not read. And I rather doubt whether a list of masterpieces picked from all over the world–mostly, I presume to be read in translations?–is a v. useful thing.

I would rather see young men beginning from where they are and being led on from one thing to another: e.g. that Milton shd. lead them either to Virgil and Homer (and therefore to a really serious study of Latin or Greek) or to Dante (and therefore to a whole course of Medieval and Italian studies). That, after all, is how every educated person’s development has actually come about.

The sort of culture one can get from the 100 or 1000 Best Books read in isolation from the societies and literatures that begot them seems to me like the sort of knowledge of Europe I shd. get from staying at big hotels in Paris, Berlin, Rome, etc. It wd. be far better to know intimately one little district, going from village to village, getting to know the local politics, jokes, wines, and cheeses. Or so it seems to me.

But here I go offering you advice, which you didn’t ask for, and refusing that which you did! Forgive me, and believe me

Yours sincerely,
C.S. Lewis

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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31 Responses to Why C.S. Lewis Says My Reading Program is Wrong, or What Cheese has to do with Reading

  1. Shelley Merritt says:

    I’m on my phone, and just read your latest post and wanted to comment immediately.. I love this! I love your honesty, and I am even more enamoured with Lewis and his true genius. Not just his intelligence. But his God-given genius insight. Love that man.

    Keep reason and writing. You’ve got some of that God-given stuff yourself!

    – a reader in the shallow end of the pool, Shelley Merritt

    On Wednesday, 10 August 2016, A Pilgrim in Narnia wrote:

    > Brenton Dickieson posted: “This year on A Pilgrim in Narnia we have been > doing some thinking about programs for reading great books: Why I Read C.S. > Lewis Chronologically How You Can Read C.S. Lewis Chronologically The Canon > of Fantasy Literature Harold Bloom’s “The W” >

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the comment! I’m traveling, so writing in haste. I love hearing from readers. I’m not in the shallow end, I guess, but I am super slow at reading. It has been a cautious wading toward the deeper ends, and it took me a decade of adult, dedicated reading to make up for my gaps and feel comfortable picking up the classics with some degree of comfort.

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  2. Extollager says:

    Nah, this letter doesn’t represent Lewis’s considered opinion on reading. Otherwise he wouldn’t have thrown out so many recommendations himself, e.g. to Sister Madeleva in June 1934, Here we see him, two decades before The Discarded Image, his prolegomena to medieval and Renaissance studies, saying what he will say there: to read the medieval and Renaissance works well, it’s enormously helpful to have read Classical authors and the Bible including the apocryphal New Testament (one might try antiquarian ghost story writer M. R. James’s edition). For medieval works themselves the Romance of the Rose and the Divine Comedy are essential. I think what Lewis is reacting against in the letter you cite is something like a kind of “culture vulture” kit for the “well-rounded” person whose real interests are elsewhere.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I hope people get that I wrote this tongue in cheek. Lewis is the ultimate “canonical” reader. Still, in the midst of this is great advice about how we explore the different kinds of canons.
      I’ve not heard of the “culture vulture” kit. Well done.
      I’m traveling, so writing in haste. I still want to respond to your great question in the other blog about patriarchy. I won’t be back on here for a few days.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Extollager says:

    And if your intention was to assemble a collection of the “World’s One Hundred Great Books” and read it through from one end of the shelf to the other, yeah, probably Lewis wouldn’t think that was a happy ambition. That would be to make a big Task of what should be a lifelong source of interest. But while collateral reading can be great, there -are- certain works that everyone should know who proposes to explore one of those regions. If you’re going to read Milton well, for example, it seems (to judge by A Preface to Paradise Lost) that you would likely profit by some acquaintance with Homer and Vergil, and so on.

    As long as we are talking about lists of books, what about this–compiling a list of well-known works that, apparently, Lewis never read? The low-hanging fruit will be 20th-century works that everyone has heard of but that Lewis didn’t read. Then one can go on to earlier works.

    So, to get us started: offhand, so far as I know Lewis never read Joyce; never read Proust, or Knut Hamsun (Nobel prize winner btw), Sigrid Undset (regrettably!; another Nobelist), etc. It shouldn’t be hard to identify others.

    Going back hundreds of years, I don’t find much evidence that he was widely read in the Church Fathers. Had he ever read Irenaeus, Cyprian, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, etc.? He’d obviously read some Augustine and knew Athanasius’s On the Incarnation of the Word. Had he even read the Apostolic Fathers and other early Christian writings (Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Epistle to Diognetus, Didache, etc.)?

    I hope nobody thinks my intention is to belittle this great teacher; but it might be interesting to compile a list such as I suggest.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, you did it! Great idea: a list of well-known works that, apparently, Lewis never read. We can’t know for sure, but that’s a super interesting project. Generally, he was strong on medieval mystics and weak on desert fathers. He was weak on the Eastern church, but fascinated with it (and other “oriental” religions and cultures). I once sketched out a book called “Bedside Reading of the Earliest Christians”–basically the early post-apostolic and patristic writings. I don’t know if Lewis knew any of them, and his Jewish reading was weak. He was strong on devotional theology but weak on anything modern (Dutch, narrative, postliberal, liberal, American, etc.). SciFi lit grew too quickly for him after 1950, but he read some of the classics of that period. I don’t think he knew any of hte Latin American writers and was weak on American poetry.
      None of that a real start, but I had to get some thoughts out in agreement with yours.
      I don’t think anyone will think this belittling.

      Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      I’d love to know more about how well- or ill-read he was in German! On the one hand, he talks more than once about how he has to puzzle along with a dictionary (for example, in reading Novalis’s Heinrich von Ofterdingen – mentioning it was not available in English translation as if he would have read that, at least first, if he could: not knowing there was an English translation published in the U.S. in 1842!), on the other hand he refers to Goethe more than once as if quite familiar (with some of his works) and read Wagner’s Ring libretti aloud with Tolkien!

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  4. I love that letter by Lewis! I wonder if you looked at his notebooks in the Bodleian where he sketched out the sources for his book _Studies in Words_? If you haven’t seen them, ask for Dep. d. 809- 810. You can watch him go through his own personal canon for each word he’s considering. He’s quite systematic. He’ll take a word like “World” and think of instances in Old English, and then got through historical periods in English, and then think about Greek and Latin and maybe French. But he’s not doing this with a computer or concordances or reference books. It’s all out of his memory. He does seem to look up the references that he thinks of, because he writes out quotations with page numbers, but the only way he knows to go to that source to that section is from his memory. Then if you look at the chapter in _Studies in Words_, there it is all is, the whole list of references, right in order. In my mind, that’s the book that reveals which books function as Lewis’s personal canon.
    I’m reading through two lists myself at the moment – the works of P. G. Wodehouse and the Discworld books of Terry Pratchett. Pratchett I’m doing in order (just finished _The Last Continent_, so I’m more than halfway); Wodehouse more randomly.

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    • Thanks Laura. Very timely. I am in an airport now on the way to England and will land in Oxford in a couple of weeks. I still remember our providential day and your generosity of time! This time I will be the host, of sorts.
      I thought of Studies in Words, having read it last year about this time. I chose “An Experiment in Criticism” in the previous blog because of its shortness and the almost randomness. If you read the books and/or authors he happens to mention, you’ll have a good feeling for |Western lit.
      Another reader (Extollager) made the Wodehouse list link on another blog. I’m on #20 of Discworld, so almost exactly halfway (Hogfather, first time). Most I’ve read before, but I’m going by time of writing.

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Tangentially, I’ve enjoyed getting acquainted with all sorts of early Wodehouse works, the existence of which was unknown to me before I ran into and enjoyed having them read out loud thanks to LibriVox.org volunteers (for a notable example, The Swoop!, or How Clarence Saved England: A Tale of the Great Invasion (1909) – one of those fascinating books in some ways anticipating the Great War).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. S. Evelyn says:

    What a great letter. It’s always worth while as well to think about whether you actually want to read something or whether you only want to have read it and to be able to tell people you’ve read it.

    I will say though that when I saw this title I initially assumed this post would be about the importance of reading cheese, in the sense of pulp—cf Lewis’ own love of HR Haggard. A future post?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, well done. Seems like a guest post for you to write as it’s your brilliant idea!
      I’m traveling, so writing in haste.

      Like

    • Extollager says:

      Lewis was a big Rider Haggard fan. One of his last reviews was of a biography of Haggard (see Image and Imagination). He went to see King King in the 1930s because it sounded Haggardish to him. Roger Lancelyn Green mentions Lewis’s fondness for Haggard in Green’s book Tellers of Tales, 2nd edition. Lewis says somewhere something to the effect that a nonexistent book he’d have loved to read would be romance by Haggard on the theme of the Wandering Jew. I think Jadis in The Magician’s Nephew is a gesture of affection to Haggard’s Ayesha–in Haggard’s She, as I recall, the narrator has a frightened moment of imagining Ayesha loose in London, and in Magician’s Nephew that’s what we get. Look at all the Haggard books in Lewis’s library as it was catalogued in 1969:

      http://www.wheaton.edu/~/media/Files/Centers-and-Institutes/Wade-Center/RR-Docs/Non-archive-Listings/Lewis_Public_shelf.pdf

      As for pulp magazines, I’ve written on Lewis’s acknowledged indebtedness to American magazines in some pieces for the New York C. S. Lewis Society. Cf. the Brandywine Books discussion here:

      http://brandywinebooks.net/?p=1706

      Dale Nelson

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      • Dale Nelson says:

        Here’s my article on C. S. Lewis and American pulp science fiction, if it’s not too long for a comment.

        C. S. Lewis and American Pulp Science Fiction

        By Dale Nelson

        C. S. Lewis, Oxford don and then Cambridge scholar specializing in medieval and Renaissance literature – an impressionable reader of American science fiction pulps?

        The inventor of Narnia – indebted to the co-founder of Arkham House?

        It seems so. Lewis made no secret of these debts. In The Great Divorce, he refers to two stories that he thinks came from the cheaply-printed pages of the pulps. He was wrong about one of the stories. The story he refers to in the preface has to have been “The Man Who Lived Backwards,” by the forgotten British author Charles Hall and appeared in a British magazine. But apparently Lewis was so deeply read in the American pulps that he just assumed that he’d read the story, which features raindrop like bullets, in one of them. The other story is alluded to in a footnote: “This method of travel also I learned from the ‘scientifictionists’.”

        “Colossus,” which first appeared in the January 1934 issue of Astounding, appears to be the story that suggested to Lewis the idea, central to The Great Divorce, of travel from one universe to a much vaster one — travel during which the vehicle and passenger(s) expand concomitantly so as to “fit“ the new cosmos. The universe — ours — that is left behind in Donald Wandrei’s story is but an atom relative to the size of the universe that is entered. Similarly, in The Great Divorce the immense, sprawling city of Hell is an invisible point relative to the vastness of Heaven’s borderland. The spaceship White Bird, piloted by the intrepid Duane Sharon, expands in Wandrei’s story: “According to the law propounded decades ago by Einstein, the White Bird, all its contents, and he, himself, would undergo a change, lengthening in the direction of flight” as they travel thousands of times the speed of light (54, 56/130). The busful of passengers from Hell expands so that, when it emerges from a tiny crack in the celestial soil, the holiday-makers are “to scale.”

        Wandrei’s story may also have suggested to Lewis something of the splendor of outer space that Ransom discovers in Out of the Silent Planet. Sharon beholds “[w]hite suns and blue, pale-orange and apple-green stars, colossal tapestry of night blazing with eternal jewels” and an “emerald sun, flaming in the radiant beauty of birth” (Wandrei 58,59/133, 134). Ransom contemplates “planets of unbelievable majesty, and constellations undreamed of: there were celestial sapphires, rubies, emeralds and pin-pricks of burning gold” (Lewis 31); space is not dead but rather is “the womb of worlds” (32).

        I wonder if Wandrei ever read The Great Divorce or Out of the Silent Planet. Lewis may have been aware of the small press that Wandrei and August Derleth founded, since a catalog of books from Lewis’s library, prepared a few years after his death, included at least one AH book, Robert Bloch’s The Opener of the Way. But don’t get too excited about the prospect. Likely enough, the book had belonged to Lewis’s wife, Joy, an American.

        Now that you’ve had the chance to wrap your head around the idea of Lewis as pulp-mag reader, let’s consider a little historical background. C. S. Lewis’s “On Science Fiction” was read, or was the basis of a talk, at a 1955 session of the Cambridge University English Club (Hooper xix). In this paper, Lewis said that, “some fifteen or twenty years ago,” he “became aware of a bulge in the production” of stories of the type pioneered by H. G. Wells. Lewis said: “In America whole magazines began to be exclusively devoted to them” (“On Science Fiction” 55). This statement nails down the fact that Lewis read American pulp “scientifiction.” Such magazines were readily available to British readers. Richard Kyle recalls “bins of ‘Yank Magazines – Interesting Reading’ in the English Woolworth stores of the middle ‘30s” (Lupoff 92).

        Historian of science fiction Mike Ashley regards the “mid-thirties” as the time in which these magazines exhibited a phase of “cosmic sf,” emphasizing stories that dealt with “not just the exploration of space but the nature of time, space and the universe” (231). Along with “Colossus,” a couple of other such stories may have left traces in Lewis’s own science fiction.

        Jack Williamson’s “Born of the Sun” (Astounding, March 1934) may have had something do with Weston’s “rind” remarks at the end of Chapter 13 of Perelandra (1943). In the Williamson story, some at least of the solar system’s moons, as well as its planets, are actually spawn or “‘seed of the Sun’” (Asimov 532): huge egg-like objects from which eventually hatch immense monsters (which possess the ability to fly in a vacuum!). When the planet Earth begins to hatch, there ensue apocalyptic consequences for human beings living on the outer surface of the shell. In Lewis’s novel, Weston describes the universe as a globe with a crust of “‘life’” (the crust, however, being time; it’s about seventy years thick for human beings). As one ages, Weston says, one sinks through the crust until he emerges into the dark, deathly “‘reality’” that God Himself does not know (168). In each story, there is the idea of humanity living on a thin surface beneath which is something truly appalling.

        OK, maybe that’s a stretch. How about this one? Edmond Hamilton’s “The Accursed Galaxy” (Astounding, July 1935) may have contributed two essential components to Lewis’s Ransom trilogy.

        Hamilton’s story proposes that organic life, viewed very Un-Lewisly as a loathsome contagion, originated two billion years ago when one member of a race of immortal “volitient beings of force” was experimenting with matter. He accidentally released “the diseased matter” from his laboratory, and it rapidly spread from world to world. This “experimenter” (Asimov 717) was punished by the other force creatures by being confined in a “shell of frozen force” (719) that eventually descends to the earth. Human beings involuntarily set him free at the climax of the story. In addition to imprisoning the offender, the other force-creatures also caused the primal super-galaxy to break up into millions of galaxies, all the others rushing away from the infected core — our own Milky Way galaxy. The vast (and increasing) distances of space effect a cosmic quarantine. Central to Out of the Silent Planet (1938), of course, is the idea of the confinement to our earth of its “bent Oyarsa” (the devil), lest he do further damage, having already stricken the moon and Mars ages ago (121). In the first of the Ransom books, and in Perelandra, human beings are the means by which the devil is enabled to threaten Mars and Venus.

        Lewis’s eldila are described, in the Ransom trilogy, as appearing as light. For example, in the first chapter of Perelandra, the narrator sees “a rod or pillar of light” of an unnamable color (18). The force-being who appears in “Accursed Galaxy” is a “forty-foot pillar of blazing, blue light, crowned by a disk of light” (Asimov 719). The edila “do not eat [or] suffer natural death” (Perelandra 9), and Williamson’s force-beings are “immortal” and “[need] no nourishment” (Asimov 717).

        It’s reasonable to surmise that Lewis was influenced by impressions of Hamilton’s story as he wrote his own “planet books,” but also that he had forgotten “The Accursed Galaxy,” or judged that his “revisions” of elements from Hamilton’s story were so thorough as to make allusion to it not obligatory.

        So, was Prof. C. S. Lewis not only a reader of American pulp mag science fiction, but a writer influenced by it? I think so!

        Ashley, Mike. The Time Machines: The Story of the Science-Fiction Pulp Magazines

        From the Beginning to 1950. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000.

        Asimov, Isaac (ed.). Before the Golden Age: A Science Fiction Anthology of the 1930s.

        Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1974.

        Hooper, Walter. “Preface.” On Stories and Other Essays on Literature by C. S. Lewis.

        San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1982.

        Lewis, C. S. The Great Divorce. Glasgow: Fontana, 1972.

        ———-.“On Science Fiction.” On Stories and Other Essays on Literature. San

        Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1982.

        – – – – – – – – – -. Out of the Silent Planet. New York: Macmillan, 1973.

        – – – – – – – – – -. Perelandra. New York: Macmillan, 1969.

        Lupoff, Richard A. and Patricia E. Lupoff. The Best of Xero. San Francisco: Tachyon,

        2004. This book is a selection of contributions to a classic fanzine of 1960-1962.

        Wandrei, Donald. “Colossus.” Astounding Stories Jan. 1934: 40-72. This story is reprinted, with some changes by the author, in: Colossus: The Collected Science Fiction of Donald Wandrei. Ed. Philip J. Rahman and Dennis E. Weiler. Minneapolis: Fedogan and Bremer, 1989, pages 110-153. “Colossus” does not appear to have been reprinted until 1950 (several years after the composition and publication of The Great Divorce), when it appeared in an anthology, Beyond Time and Space, edited by August Derleth. “Colossus” may also be found in Asimov’s Before the Golden Age anthology.

        (c) Dale Nelson 2015; printed originally in Pierre Comtois’s magazine Fungi, (c) ca. 2010.

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      I’ve heard anecdotes about how narratively omnivorous Lewis was, for example, looking up and down to read boy’s magazine adventure stories while taking his turn to invigilate examinations in the Schools.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Alexander J. Wei says:

    I would say that Lewis was leery of prescribing a specific list for everybody, that being the kind of thing his junior faculty-mate, FR Leavis, seemed to have no difficulty at all with. Of course, Lewis didn’t mind making individual recommendations to people he knew, or was beginning to know.

    It is great fun to make contact in this way with my great friend and fellow Lewis-lover Laura A. Smit!

    For somewhat personal reasons, I usually prefer to refer to Lewis’ older brother either as Warnie, or as Warren Hamilton Lewis (or Major Lewis). The reason is that both my father and I studied Chemical Engineering at MIT, under the great shadow of Dr. Warren K. Lewis; my father once held the Warren K. Lewis chair. Another coincidence; apparently Warnie was stationed in Shanghai, China around 1930, about the time my father was born and my father also grew up in Shanghai.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, and yes.
      Cool Lewis Sr. connections.
      Laura and I met in real life almost by accident in Oxford when she was at the Kilns. Such is the CSL world, I suppose.
      I’m traveling, so writing in haste.

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    • Extollager says:

      An example of Lewis preparing a list specifically for one person comes in his 26 Sept. 1945 letter to I. O. Evans. He provides a short list of sources on MERLIN: “Malory (the Everyman edition and the Temple Classics are both complete), …Geoffrey of Monmouth (Temple Classics), and LAYAMON (to be found in the Everyman volume entitled ‘Arthurian Chronicles from Wace and Layamon’). For Arthur in general see ‘Arthur of Britain’ by E. K. Chambers, Collingwood in Vol. I of “Oxford History of England’, and Vinaver’s ‘Malory’.”

      I’ve found it helpful to use the indexes in the three volumes of Lewis’s collected letters when I wanted to see what he had to say about particular authors. Shakespeare? I see that he recommends Bethell’s Shakespeare and the Popular Dramatic Tradition. Got that book–and it was a key help for me when I took over our Shakespeare course! And so on. Happily for me, I more or less grew up, as a student of literature, with Lewis’s letters at hand, starting, as an undergrad, with the one-volume edition prepared by W. H. Lewis. During the time I was a high school teacher, after graduating from college, here comes Lewis’s letters to Arthur Greeves. And so on.

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        “I’ve found it helpful to use the indexes in the three volumes of Lewis’s collected letters when I wanted to see what he had to say about particular authors” – Yes!: and particular works (what handy indexing!) – delightful and instructive (and encouraging me to try various unfamiliar things).

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  7. robstroud says:

    It is fascinating that you describe yourself as being a “list-driven reader.” I, am not.

    While I truly do appreciate the value of lists, to follow one for such purposes smacks too much of school “assignments” for me. The list would become my syllabus, so to speak, and straying from it (e.g. by ignoring something that looks, to me, to be utterly uninteresting) would mean I failed or cheated.

    Now, as an academic yourself, one who I know compiles well-balanced lists of reading to broaden the minds of your students and expose them to thoughts they would never otherwise encounter (i.e. those they deemed “uninteresting”)… I see why you would favor such as approach. Or, rather than “favor,” perhaps I should say I see why you find it “comfortable.”

    I pursue the path outlined Lewis. But, alas, only part of the journey. I seldom follow the road to the point where I would gain any expertise.

    I do, however, understand intimately the experience of “being led on from one thing to another.” That’s the curse I experience whenever I conduct research. I discover an almost infinite number of subjects and ideas I am compelled to explore more and more deeply…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the note, Rob. I do need to have some disciplined approaches because I really am in a curriculum (even if I am designing a lot of it myself). I do get great satisfaction out of crossing a book off the list. Weird, I know! Yet I don’t feel the opposite (guilt, pressure, etc.).
      I think keeping the journey image for most of us is helpful, whether our motivation is only intrinsic or partly extrinsic. I do tumble off my lists into the pilgrim’s path of reading.
      I’m traveling, so writing in haste. I left a note on your excellent blog. In my mind it seems super serious, but I meant it in a more conversational tone. I was simply in a hurry, and it may not even be coherent.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wayne Stauffer says:

    quite the contrary… his comment, “I would rather see young men beginning from where they are and being led on from one thing to another…” seems to specifically comment on your situation–you are following your interests and growing your passion…and making your own lists as you go. sounds to me like you are following CSL’s advice…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Actually, you are right. I am one of those “young men.” I have destinations, but not a single list or exact curriculum. And each book leads back further.
      Right now I’m going through the background lit for vampyre fiction. A different canon I suppose.
      I’m traveling, so writing in haste. Thanks for the encouragement.

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  10. joviator says:

    Interesting — Lewis’s preferred method is quantifiable! What would he think of his idea’s being used by Digital Humanities scholars?

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  12. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    “And I rather doubt whether a list of masterpieces picked from all over the world–mostly, I presume to be read in translations?–is a v. useful thing.” I wonder if, lurking behind that sentence, is any conscious attention to either or both of Charles Eliot’s Harvard Classics (1909) or the 1952 Great Books of the Western World – and, if so, how well-informed an attention?

    My first undergraduate roommate was a brilliant musician, and also a ‘farm boy’ whose farm had a set of the Harvard Classics, and who had read thoughtfully many a great work I still have not yet caught up with! (He also borrowed a boxed set of Narnia I had run into – never having even heard of them as a child, and devoured it before I had started on it, if I remember aright!)

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  14. Hey, this seems to fit my mini-syllabus reading plan! I never knew I was so on point with Lewis. 🙂

    That being said, I think that as long as we don’t attack these master lists as obligatory to-do lists, but rather as opportunities, there’s no harm in them.

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