joys of reading, philosophy

An Experiment in Criticism by C. S. Lewis

Because this post interconnects very closely with my most recent post on the different approaches readers can take when sitting down with a book, I’m sharing it here.

Lewis’ depth of thought certainly gives me, as an avid reader, something to think about. For instance, the notion that it is possible to sit with a book and get no more out of it than one would a half hour sitcom was one image which sprang to my mind.

The question becomes: Is there ever a time when reading is suitable for that?

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14 thoughts on “An Experiment in Criticism by C. S. Lewis”

  1. “For instance, the notion that it is possible to sit with a book and get no more out of it than one would a half hour sitcom was one image which sprang to my mind.

    The question becomes: Is there ever a time when reading is suitable for that?”

    I can answer that for you, maybe. It depends on 1) your reason for “unplugging” into fiction. And 2) whether you prefer to read said fiction or watch the sitcom fiction.

    I’ve mentioned here before (I think) I’m a researcher, so almost everything I read is a springboard for a writing project – of one kind or another. My brain engages when I read. So for me to truly unplug, I prefer to watch than to read. I don’t think one is worse than the other, both are classified as ‘entertainment/leisure’. However, too much of either is unhealthy and a terrible waste of time. Or using either one as a substitution, as in too much gaming, for real life and real relationships — also unhealthy.

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  2. “Like nearly all fine things, it can be overused, and often is.” … isn’t this part of living here on earth. Part of the nature of being in a fallen world is the ever present temptation to corrupt that which is good. Always have to be vigilant.

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  3. I find it funny that people still uphold reading as this refined, cultural experience when, in fact, many people do read and don’t “get” anything out of it. I remember vividly a blog post criticizing adults who color as wasting time and my response was to the effect of, “But how can we be sure that a person reading isn’t ‘wasting’ time, too? We can’t assume that they’re doing some fabulous internal literary analysis that would ‘justify’ their particular use of spare time. They might be reading mindlessly.” But often we just assume that reading is always a superior intellectual experience/pastime!

    For me, however, I think reading for entertainment is valid. I admit I don’t fully understand people who read and seem to have thought literally nothing at all about what they were reading. Even if I am reading a light YA romance that doesn’t say anything deep or really make me think about big issues, I still end up thinking a little bit about the characters and the plot and the prose and the construction of the work. I’m not engaging with it on the same level as if I would if I wanted to write a paper on it, but I don’t really read anything and just accept it at face value and then forget about it when I close the pages. But, if someone did, I am not sure I could judge them for it. I don’t know their situation. Maybe they really needed a mental escape.

    I agree, though, with the above comments. Everything in moderation. Having a mental break is important. I think Lewis is perhaps referring to a habit of not engaging with literary works. At that point, Lewis suggests that reading without engagement is a waste of time at best. It is becoming a substitute for the real world (as someone above said!) and leading to someone living vicariously in books. Then it potentially becomes harmful.

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  4. @Robyn:

    Yes, I recall you saying that you do lots of research. It makes perfect sense that you would approach reading from a different angle than someone reading mainly for enjoyment.

    I tend to gravitate towards nonfiction and books that tackle big issues or theology.

    It is only quite recently that I have begun to read books solely for the experience of appreciating the authors humor, for instance.

    My husband is similar to you. He reads work related things all day so prefers watching to relax. While he watches, I read, mostly. I can only handle so much animal kingdom, science and technology, or “This Old House”, 😃.

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  5. @Krysta:

    Like you, I find it impossible to read even the lightest bits of writing without considering the geater implications of the actions and thoughts expressed.

    Occasionally I have come away feeling reading this or that was a “waste” but rarely.

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  6. The emptiness of pursuing fruitlessness in an attempt to find meaning should induce despair.

    When people STOP pursuing happiness (thanks Founding Fathers for THAT bit of not wisdom!), they may stumble into it.

    At least that’s how it worked out for me.

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  7. @ Hearth, yes I do. It reminds me of what Solomon said,

    ‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless’” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

    @Els, founding fathers knew where it was at !

    Have great weekend ladies!

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