Friday 6 October 2023

Treat Reading as a Vice

 Alastair Fowler, ‘C. S. Lewis: Supervisor’, Yale Review, 91.4 (2003), 64–80 (p. 75):

   Lewis managed to cram copious reading into his busy life by not making a task of it. He told his pupils, “The great thing is to be always reading but never to get bored – treat it not like work, more as a vice!” Following his own advice, he pursued congenial literature with passion (pleasure is too weak a word). As for uncongenial works, a few minutes a day would get him through. His tastes became more catholic with maturity (he reached out latterly even to drama); but he always read selectively rather than systematically. If a major work like Abraham Cowley’s Davideis bored him, he set it aside. What he read, however, he read more deeply than most. He led me to see that coverage – complete knowledge of literature – can never be attained. Rising from a thirst to range over it and take in all that is delightful, good reading has to work by sampling, exploring, and at last grasping strategic works or passages, in the context of sources, analogues, historical circumstances, and the inferior subliterature whose lower pleasures it leaves behind. Lewis’s selectivity showed in the works he had chosen to remember.