“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 thoughts on “Here’s to C.S. Lewis and Old Books”
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.
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?
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.
I am more cultured in the “old” classics, and know little about the new. There are just so many wonderful old treasures to explore, I haven’t found time to search the new.
Finding time to explore the old is difficult enough. My list of books is long enough it’ll take a good three years to get through them all, and most good old movies I don’t even have access to. Sad.
My husband and I have been occasionally watching classic old movies. We have found a lot of new favorites. You might be able to find a few at a library.
Many, in fact, what I lack is the time more than anything. Being a grown up is not nearly as much fun as I was led to believe.
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