When I spoke at Wheaton College I paid a visit to the Wade collection. It houses collections from the libraries of C.S. Lewis and many others. I asked to see a few of the books that were in the library of C.S. Lewis. The curator made the decision, but to my delight she brought up a copy of one of my favorites: Paradise Lost by Milton. I could not believe how many notes Lewis made in the margins, all in his meticulous penmanship. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take a picture.
The picture you see is a Latin text where you can see the written notes of Lewis at the bottom in both Latin and Greek.
Lesson learned: If a scholar like Lewis finds it helpful to write in books, what does that mean for the rest of us?!
Picture: HT Timothy Willard’s Instagram account
I will be interviewing Professor Karen Swallow Prior next month, but this is a terrific interview on what great books can do for us:
We spent several days last week visiting with friends from Brenham Bible Church. This is the church I preached at from 2010-13.
During a break between visits, Doreen and I went to Starbucks to read. I met a man there from New Orleans with a thick accent. He was curious about about the books I write.
During our conversation he said he “liked to read about oil wells.” I thought he said Orwell so I enthusiastically replied how much I “loved Orwell.”
He laughed and said my confusion was due to his heavy accent.
Talk about hubris! I do agree with a one of their selections. I am sure you can guess which one!
HT: Dan Wallace
Kempis, Of the Imitation of Christ
If you purchase this book, make sure to get the edition that is edited by A.J. Krailsheimer. For some reason, Amazon is not allowing me to link to that edition.
Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress
Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing
Lewis: Loads to pick from, but I choose Surprised by Joy
My copy of The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis…and my hand!
C.S. Lewis said that you have not really read a book unless you’ve reread it.
The older I get (almost sixty), the more I enjoy rereading books that have been most formative for me. I won’t ever do what Spurgeon did in reading The Pilgrim’s Progress 100 times, but rereading is enriching, especially when it comes to great books.
I recently reread The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. It is a little over 120 pages, but I made over 100 marginal notes. When I first read it, all I did was underline. This second read through was more active.
Augustine said that attention is necessary for reading, and reading aids attention. Being distracted is nothing new. Augustine was writing about the distractions of life over 1500 years ago.
Christians ought to be the best of readers, so how about reading, or rereading a good book?!
No, it is not in Philadelphia! Doreen and I spent a wonderful day in Newport, RI during our time of study at Yale. Here is a terrific overview of Newport and the library:
I write down many things as I read. One of my commonplace books is pictured above. They are wonderful friends who have been with me for many years.
If you are not familiar with a commonplace book, listen to this description by Tracy McKenzie of Wheaton and consider using one yourself!:
Last week I began a new feature on this blog that I am calling “From My Commonplace Book.” A commonplace book is a journal in which you record favorite quotes from what you are reading, and sometimes the thoughts that they evoke. In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, it was not uncommon for students to be required to keep a commonplace book, and many of the leading lights of the American revolutionary generation did so. I’ve been doing so now for more than a year, selecting quotes that help me to think through my calling as a Christian, historian, and teacher.
I could type them on my laptop, but I like the idea of writing the quotes out by hand. For one thing, it heightens the sense that I am following in the footsteps of those who have gone before me. We live in a present-tense society that dismisses 94 percent of all the human beings who have ever drawn breath on this planet simply because they are no longer living. When I sit down to my commonplace book with pen in hand, I am self-consciously engaging in a countercultural act. It’s a symbolic gesture but no less important for that. It helps me, imaginatively, to think of myself as entering into a grand conversation about enduring questions, something far bigger than the transient fads and obsessions that so easily steal the best days of our lives.
Writing the quotes out by hand also forces me to slow down, and that in itself is a countercultural act as well. By lingering over a passage and recording it with painstaking care, I am symbolically setting it apart from the ocean of information that inundates me daily. Much of that information may be valuable, but the passages that go into my commonplace book are life-changing.