C.S. Lewis: “On the Reading of Old Books”

Gearing up for teaching a new “American Lit 1776-Present” course. I’ll be at the office, sitting at my desk all day, wearing long pants instead of shorts. Not a screw gun or a stage platform or a digital camera within reach. This essay offers some well-phrased arguments for reading classic literature.A person is sitting under a tree, reading a book. The glowing sun is low on the horizon, casting long, lazy shadows.

Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. –C.S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books.