A Thought From C.S. Lewis – On Reading the Classics

C.S. Lewis, by Paulina D. All rights reserved.

“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 one old one to every three new ones.”

         – C.S. Lewis (full text found here)

Very useful rule, C.S. Lewis, but I fail miserably at it. I comfort myself with the idea that “when I have more time” I will improve my reading habits.

 Lewis’s argument is:

– Classics are classics for a reason. Who knows if anyone will be reading Twilight in two hundred years?

– Old books help correct the blind spots we modern people don’t realize we have.


Filed under Quotables

15 responses to “A Thought From C.S. Lewis – On Reading the Classics

  1. Very good insight here. I do fail at times to pick up those classics as I ought to. During the time I home schooled our children, I read with them “Robinson Crusoe” and found it a wonderful piece of literature with excellent values. I was so glad we had studied that book together. So…in many ways, C.S. Lewis is right. We do need to look over those classics. Thanks for your thoughtful sharing Harmamae.


  2. C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors of all time. I agree with this, though I fail at it most of the time. There is just always a ‘new’ book coming out. The classics are always there, and we take them for granted. It’s okay though. After I finish my current read i’m moving onto little women. Nice Post!


    • Yes, I love C.S. Lewis too! (And Little Women – hope you enjoy it). I find myself thinking the same way – I can always go get a classic for the library. They aren’t going anywhere. So I don’t need to read them NOW. But if I don’t read them now, when will I?


  3. Maybe because I studied history in college, I tend to love the classic books far more than new ones. Even a classic novel that isn’t in my favorite genre (fantasy) will probably interest me more than a new fantasy book about which I know little. Often the older books have more thought and better values put into them; not always, by any means, but often. And what Lewis says in the paragraphs surrounding that quote is very useful: reading any book is jumping into the middle of a centuries-old conversation. If you aren’t familiar with the older books, you won’t fully understand the newer ones. Still, one shouldn’t only read “old” books, otherwise you will miss the new classics as well. Greatness can come at any time, from any source.


    • I’m currently studying History, so that might be why I love classics too 🙂 The business of publishing has changed a lot, and people’s attention spans have gotten shorter, so the way novels have written have changed too. Not always for the better.

      Agreed. This is not to say every classic will be better than every new book. The part about the centuries-old conversation is very true too.


  4. Hmm. I would like to read more old great books.


  5. Alexia

    I already knew this quote I think, but I don’t think you should make a duty to read those classics. Where’s the pleasure in that ? Of course they’re important, but when I read a classic I do it because it was there, because I felt like it, and not just to prove I can read classic books. Like Sarkozy, everyone knows he reads classics just to recite his little speach to impress journalists. He has no passion, and therefore no real understanding of the books…


    • Yes, I already quoted it to you once before. 🙂 I’d argue that making a commitment, such as reading one classic for every new book, can get you started doing something you don’t do. Setting a goal, because reading the classics is work. At some point it would hopefully turn from a duty to a pleasure.
      I understand what you’re saying, because many of the books I was forced to read in English class I hated because I was forced to read them. On the other hand, I did eventually come to appreciate some of the books I didn’t like at first (like ‘The Great Gatsby’)


  6. Alexia

    Lol, yes, that’s true, I remembered as soon as I posted the comment but it was too late !
    I don’t think I’d be capable to make that kind of commitment, but I see your point. I didn’t really like “The Great Gatsby” – it wasn’t a book I had to read, or anything, I was just curious about an American classic – but now I’m thinking maybe I should try re-reading it. For the record, I hated “The Catcher in the Rye” and I’m afraid even now it’d feel like a waste of time to give it another try… But I don’t know, maybe it would be a good idea. I too experienced reading a book at school (“The Cid” by Corneille) and not really liking it at first, but then I read it again before the school year was over and I just loved it. And it’s an exemple of external conflict (I’m in the wrong article, but since I’m at it…) : We’re in Spain, Rodrigue and Chimène (I’m giving you their french names, cause I have no idea what they’re called in the english version – or if there is even an english version) are in love, and that’s great. But he kills her father. She has to kill Rodrigue to get revenge and save her honor, but she loves her father’s murderer…


    • I enjoyed ‘The Great Gatsby’ better when I understood it better – it’s not just a bunch of unlikable people doing things to each other, but it’s also a statement on how striving to achieve “the American dream” is empty in the end. ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is another famous book that I should really try read someday so I know what everyone is talking about…


  7. Alexia

    What does “The Catcher in the Rye” even mean ? The french translation is “L’attrape-coeur” (the heart catcher) but I’m not sure it’s accurate…


    • I went to look it up… apparently the title is from a quote in the book (which would explain why I didn’t know the meaning, not having read the book). It’s something about how the main character imagines children playing in the rye, and he wants to catch them and protect them from the world.


  8. Alexia

    Thanks ! Now if I could figure out what “rye” is… Cause the only translation I could find was “whisky” but in context it sounds pretty odd…


    • Oh, sorry! Rye is a type of whiskey, but it’s also a type of grain (kind of like wheat). In this context, it means the grain. So there is a “catcher” ready to catch and protect the children playing in a field of growing rye.


  9. Alexia

    Okay, this time I get it ! Thanks. I’m not surprised they changed the title for once^^


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