An Experiment in Criticism, 1961
My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough….But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, but 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. ~C.S. Lewis (140-141)
In this work of literary criticism, C.S. Lewis wants to achieve the thought experiment–what if, instead of judging books to be good or bad, we judged the reading of a book to be good or bad? What happens when the paradigm in literary criticism is flipped and instead of looking at the value of the content (literature, music, or art), we looked at the value of how it is perceived, how it is enjoyed. I particularly enjoyed this thought experiment and how Lewis describes a good reader as one who “receives” the literature, rather than “uses” it. I enjoyed his description of the different types of “castle-building” by readers of fiction or fantasy. I won’t lie that most of his literary references (aside from Jane Austen, Dickens, Arnold, Aristotle, Morris, and some of the Greek/Roman mythology and tragedies) I hadn’t read. But as this is really a work examining how to examine works of literature (instead of actually examining specific works), it didn’t stop me from appreciating this book. I checked this out from the library, but I think I really need to have a copy of my own. There are definitely passages that I would like to return to. I had a very difficult time finding just one quote I wanted to share in this post–I had three or four in mind. I also really appreciated Lewis’s views on Children’s literature and Science Fiction: two traditionally marginalized categories of literature.
I didn’t rank these as they are all my favorites. I tried not to choose books in series, but many of my favorite YA novels are series books, so this was somewhat unavoidable. I tried to steer for older favorites and YA books I’ve loved since high school.
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
All American Girl by Meg Cabot
The Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith
The Summer King by O.R. Melling (technically the second installment in a series, but it can be read as a standalone too as it’s not a direct sequel)
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
A Northern Light by Jennifer Connelly
The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
Blood and Chocolate by Annette Kurtis Clause (Her other novel, The Silver Kiss, is just as good–I went back and forth on which one I wanted to choose.)
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn
What could be better than running at night?
This question isn’t asked until the end of the book. However, Ellie explains her reasoning for running in between places at night fairly close to the beginning. She runs so that she has a head start on the bad guy that might be chasing her. Never did she imagine that in her first semester at art college, she would be running toward him. This is a story about Ellie, a young art student who wants to paint, really paint–to paint and have her work invoke a powerful response. It is also a story about dependence, being new to college and relationships, and staying true to yourself when it would feel good to give in.
This novel brought about a lot of memories of my first semester at college. I was an art student, like Ellie, and though I didn’t remain an art student for very long, I will never forget my time in my very first drawing class. Ellie’s classes and her projects all felt real–this doesn’t surprise me, as the author is an artist herself. But what was most real about this novel was Ellie’s struggles in the romance department. She tries again and again to tell herself that this is what she wants, that she’s a liberated soul, and that she and Nick are meant for each other. I found myself absolutely absorbed in this novel and its central conflict–that letting go of a toxic relationship can be very difficult. It’s one of the hardest lessons to learn in real life and I think that Hillary Frank handles it wonderfully. As a side note, there are a lot of endearing minor characters in this novel–like Ellie’s Dad and her enthusiastic art teacher, Ed. Even stoner Sam. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good read this summer.
I’ve been waiting for awhile to read this book by Maggie Stiefvater, author of one of my favorite new YA series, The Raven Cycle (here are my reviews for book one and book two). I was not all that impressed with Shiver, the first novel in her other YA series, so I didn’t know what to expect for The Scorpio Races. However, I try to make it a point to read all of my favorite authors’ work (or as much as I can manage!).
The Scorpio Races hit me like a tsunami tide of briny seawater. Although the island setting, Thisby, might be fictional, the story was so grounded upon its shores that I felt for sure while reading the novel that it was real. This is a story about killer horses that emerge from the sea, about the dangers of falling in love with something wild, about the struggle to hold on to hope in impossible circumstances. I loved every minute I spent in Sean and Puck’s world. As a little girl I did go through the obligatory horse obsession and this book definitely indulged all of my childhood fantasies of being one with the wind on my dearest horse-friend’s back. It also indulged my darker fantasies about Celtic mythology and the cruelty and beauty of nature. It is beautifully written. Although the characters in the novel are older teenagers, this is clearly defined as a YA novel, as the romance between the two main characters stays in the very beginning, “training,” stage. Perhaps Stiefvater could have made the romance more mature, but as I felt this really wasn’t a novel about a relationship (rather a novel with the beginnings of a relationship), I didn’t really have a problem with this. Also, I want to point out that while this is a novel about mythical killer horses set on a fictional island (most likely one of the Outer Hebrides, or perhaps off the coast of Ireland) it doesn’t necessarily read as fantasy. It reads more like historical fiction (set in the 1920’s-50’s perhaps?).
While Stiefvater chose not to write about the other side of this particular myth–about handsome red-headed men luring maidens into the sea–I hope to read a novel about them someday.
Colin Duriez recounts the extraordinary tale of friendship between J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Both authors are extremely important to the genre known as fantasy fiction and they both had such an incredible influence on each other. Without Tolkien, Lewis might never have become a Christian (and therefore, the Chronicles of Narnia might never have been born) and without Lewis’s constant encouragement, Tolkien might have only kept Middle Earth and his amazing invented languages a private hobby.
I especially appreciate the “vignettes” that Duriez uses to start off each chapter. These vignettes are imagined conversations or scenes from the lives of Tolkien and Lewis, but are all based on recorded events from their lives. I thought that they really added something special to this book of biography/literary criticism. Duriez does delve into some of Tolkien’s and Lewis’s work and provides analysis. However, I thought that his writing style on the whole was compelling and very clear, so you don’t need to be an Oxford don yourself to enjoy this tale of friendship. I think it’s incredibly sad that Tolkien and Lewis weren’t as close in the final ten years of Lewis’s life. However, I agree with Duriez that despite their many differences, they had many affinities, even in the end. I enjoyed learning about the lives and friendship of Tolkien and Lewis so much that after reading this comprehensive telling, I feel like I almost know them personally! I especially enjoyed some of the images Duriez gives us from historical accounts–Tolkien riding his bike to Oxford in academic robes and Lewis exclaiming “Wow! What a book!” about Les Liaisons Dangereuses–ever the constant reader even on his death bed. After reading this, I definitely want to read some of the literary criticism of both men and I have been meaning to read The Four Loves and Till We Have Faces forever. I would also like to read Lewis’s science fiction starring the Tolkien-esque Cambridge don Ransom.
What can I say? I really love both of these authors and their contributions to fantasy. I will continue reading about them and definitely plan on picking up Duriez’s The Inklings.