Old books

CS Lewis somewhere said something to the effect that it was important to read old books because in them, you will discover the blind spots of your particular generation.  Makes sense.  And it is something I took to heart.  My mantra jokingly became that I would refuse to read a book if its author was still alive.

In practice, this initially meant reading everything (literally, except Narnia) CS Lewis ever wrote or said.  One could spend ones time doing worse things.  As I read his books, I became aware of something in them that was different from the modern spiritual books that people would recommend to me.  If I had reflected on it for any period of time, I doubt I would have come to the conclusion that I have now eventually come to.  At the time, I think I ascribed it to old books, reinforcing what CS Lewis had previously said.  I just assumed that there was something about the way dead people spoke that was more interesting, relevant, stimulating, whatever, than live people.

But this thesis of old authors being better than new ones was tested once I got to the end of the CS Lewis train.  What to read now?  CS Lewis had mentioned somewhere that GK Chesterton’s Everlasting Man had had a tremendous impact on him while he was still an atheist.  So I picked up a copy of that at the library, and devoured it.  Wow, these old guys are great!  OK, but now who do I read?

Well, as Providence would have it, I started reading, online while bored at work, early works of various authors of the Reformed tradition.  In fact, I also had been gifted earlier with a Puritan work.  Old books, right?  They were no doubt marvelous, right?  Wrong.  I simply couldn’t read them.  They were dull in style and cold in content.  There was none of warmth and vigor that characterized Lewis and Chesterton.  I think I chalked this up merely to stylistic differences, or the books being too old, but I now think that there was much more to it than that.

In reading Lewis and Chesterton, I was being exposed to much more than old books.  I was being exposed to Catholic Truth.  Chesterton was Catholic, though I didn’t know it at the time.  Lewis was a crypto-Catholic (more on that in a separate post), but I knew it not.  And more than being exposed to Catholic Truth, I was being formed by it.  It is no exaggeration to say that I learned Christianity, while in grad school, from CS Lewis.  And so when I read non-Catholic old books, or new books from the local Christian bookstore, I was disappointed to find a form of Christianity that was alien to that which I had learned.  And not only alien, but not as attractive, not as expansive, not as glorious.  It was much more cramped and stale.  In a word, boring.  Trite.  Cliche.

But again, at the time, I was unaware of any of this.


~ by Rob on May 15, 2008.

2 Responses to “Old books”

  1. […] Old books […]

  2. […] in this little attempt to list some of the reasons for becoming Catholic, I come to CS Lewis.  As I said elsewhere, CS Lewis was probably single-handedly responsible for me taking Christianity seriously.  I […]

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