Friday, July 14, 2017

Summer Reading (So Far)

The primary theme for my summer has been C.S. Lewis.  That has coincided with several showings at our home of David Payne’s one-man play, “An Evening with C.S. Lewis.”  So far we have entertained (and inspired) 36 guests with this marvelous video.  Also this summer, Claire and I have organized a couple of discussion parties dealing with classic Lewis titles – June was Mere Christianity and coming up on August 12th will be The Screwtape Letters.  But, in addition to re-reading these, I have, with great delight and appreciation, returned to several other Lewis books in these last couple of months: The Abolition of Man, Pilgrim’s Regress, The Great Divorce, and The Dark Tower & Other Stories.

The last title in that list is made up of very short stories and fragments of stories that C.S. Lewis’ brother Warnie collected from the desk after he died.  Seeing that “Jack” (C.S. Lewis) hadn’t cared to publish them or even organize them, Warnie concluded they should be burned up.  But in stepped Walter Hooper, an exorbitant fan of C.S. Lewis who some believe was a bit of an a exploiter as well.  He took the papers, sifted through them, and found enough to publish.

I think Lewis would have preferred they would have gone up in flames.  And except for a few sentences that I found of interest, I would agree.

Indeed, the reason C.S. Lewis discarded these things were because they were not only incomplete and unpolished, they weren’t very good. And that’s fine.  In fact, it made me appreciate Lewis more as both a writer and a Christian gentleman to see that he was a craftsman who knew the difference between good writing and bad.  And the bad he rejected even though, in the latter decades of his life, he could have profited financially by publishing anything at all that had his name on the manuscript.

Let’s face it — our attempts at art are like our attempts at anything in life. Sometimes we succeed magnificently; sometimes we perform adequately; sometimes we fail.  When we achieve the first level, we should be humble and thank God for His grace active in us.  When we hit only the second level, we should redouble our efforts and seek to improve.  But when we dip into the lowest level, we should quickly admit it, toss it into the bin, and start over.  Jack Lewis did that with the manuscripts in the collection that became The Dark Tower & Other Stories. Walter Hooper should have respected Lewis' wishes. What Lewis had quite literally, put into the trash, should have stayed there.

As to the other Lewis titles I’ve re-read this summer, there is little to say except that they were all excellent, all provocative, all 5-star recommendations.

The other books of summer?  The May and June selections of the Notting Hill Napoleons were The Gates of Doom by Rafael Sabatini and Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey. Both were enjoyable and our book club discussions over both were lively and fun. Nevertheless, I would rate the Sabatini higher.

Claire and I did follow up on the Western genre, though, when we listened to an unabridged audio book of Louis L’Amour’s The Rider of the Ruby Hills on our way out to Colorado early in July. On the way back, we opted for a non-fiction title and were really pleased we did so.  The book was Michelle Malkin’s Who Built That: Awe-Inspiring Stories of American Tinkerpreneurs read superbly by the author.

The other two books of summer (late spring too, I guess) were also terrific books. One was a collection of the “obituary columns” for which William F. Buckley was well known, A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century. These columns from the pages of Buckley’s magazine National Review span the decades and cover various public figures, personal friends, and even intense antagonists – many with whom Buckley maintained warm friendships.  Imagine reading Buckley’s reminiscences of Whittaker Chambers, Alger Hiss, John Kennedy, David Niven, John Lennon, his wife Patricia, his mother and father, Richard Nixon, Gore Vidal, and many more. The book is a fabulous look back into 20th Century history -- and into the personal life and character of Bill Buckley himself.

The other grand read of these two is the first novel in Jan Karon’s much-loved Mitford series, At Home in Mitford.  Claire loves these novels and has read through the series a couple or three times already. Indeed, she’s recently started a small book club devoted to the Jan Karon series.  For my part, I had read this first novel 3 or 4 Christmases ago and, though I liked it well enough, it certainly didn’t capture me like it did on my recent re-reading of it. Now I found it not only a joyous read but a convicting one also, particularly as I reflected on the protagonist’s dedication to prayer, preaching, hospitality, and serving the needs of his small church.  This time I found myself struck with how profound a picture the novel portrayed of the winsome lifestyles of faith and compassion as insisted in the writings of Francis and Edith Schaeffer and G.K. Chesterton.  So I think I’m hooked too and, as soon as I’m free, I’ll be starting into the whole series as well.