Here’s to C.S. Lewis and Old Books

“There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should be content himself with the modern books….This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology….Now this seems to me to be topsy-turvy.

Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old….it is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read on old one to every three new ones….We all…need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books….

We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century…lies where we have never suspected it….None of us can fully escape this blindness….The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.”

From C.S. Lewis’ “On Reading of Old Books” in God in the Dock

 

There is nothing more for me to add.

7 comments

  1. handselkoan

    I wonder if he thought about only written literature or all forms of art, if he ever looked back on this quote. To be literate means to be familiar with the medium in question–that is, books, movies, artwork, sculpture, what have you. I think this applies to all, as much as one’s preferences allow.

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    • L. Lawrence

      Good point! I like that, and if a person is somewhat familiar with classic pieces of the format you described, would that make them cultured? Or is a person cultured who is familiar with their current culture’s art?

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      • handselkoan

        One can be cultured exclusively through the new material, but there is something missing if that is the case. Sure, some music of the recent decades is great, but can you be well-rounded without knowing Shostakovitch, Ralph Vaughn Williams, ragtime, John Phillip Sousa, Tchaikovsky or “The Barber of Seville”? I love the “Lord of the Rings” movies, too, but I wouldn’t appreciate movies without knowing “The Great Dictator,” “Casablanca,” “The African Queen,” “The Third Man,” and others. Those are just the ones coming to mind now.

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