An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis


A short answer to why read, according to C.S. Lewis, is that the process itself a hedonistic pleasure and that suggests that it is "good". "Good" for Lewis does not mean the subject matter is true or even logical but dependent on individual need and on approach. He suggests that we read differently when it is good, compared to when it is bad, at least as far as meeting the need for reading is concerned.

The book proposes that good reading compared to poor has to do with whether books are read in a literary or unliterary way.  He says like art, few receive it and many use it, and he adds that when it is only used, it facilitates, brightens, and relieves our needs but does not add to it. It also may just satisfy an interest or a pleasure.

Literary readers, in comparison, are seeking intellectual expansion and looking for something they don’t already know. They are challenged by what they read and added to. They see with others eyes but remain who they are.    

Lewis seems to look down on other critics when he says of them, that they are “forced to talk incessantly about books,” and that they “try to make books into the sort of things they can talk about?” Lewis says that this approach is one that just imposes an opinion on the reader. It is interesting that this same criticism may be a weakness in this book itself. Lewis demonstrates a vast knowledge of literature and likely this will seem, to some, as putting himself above it all.

The book covers Lewis’s thought on myth, fantasy, children’s books, realism, and poetry. It is well written and brings much of the literary world into focus

Quotes by C.S. Lewis

“But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.” 

“In order to pronounce a book bad it is not enough to discover that it elicits no good response from ourselves, for that might be our fault.”

“The best safeguard against bad literature is a full experience of good; just as a real and affectionate acquaintance with honest people gives a better protection against rogues than a habitual distrust of everyone.”