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51 REVIEWS CS. Lewis, AN EXPERIMENT If FICTION. Cambridge, Eng: Cambridge U P, 1961. $2.95 This is a fine little book, even though the experiment is not an experiment, and the approach is not as new as Professor Lewis would have us think. If one had to review this book as a contribution to critical theory, or as an exercise in practical criticism, one would be forced to dismiss it as another of those beautifully written collections of unsupported assertions that the British do so well. What can we make, after all, of a critic who seriously doubts that his appreciation of any "scene, chapter, stanza or "line has been improved" by reading "Aristotle, Dryden, Johnson, Lessing, Coleridge, Arnold himself (as a practicing critic), Pater, or 3radley"? We can make very little, unless we recognize that despite his title, the book is not to be judged as if its author set himself up as a critic in the traditional sense, What Professor Lewis gives us is, in contrast, one of the best "how-to-do-it" books I've ever read: How to become a good reader. For once, the jacket blurb has it right: "Not all who read this book wi11 be 'good readers' in his special sense; but it is his aim to help them become so." The book is so pleasant to read, and the main heads of the sermon are so important (and so ingratiatingly written) that one can recommend the book almost literally to that publisher's myth, "every reader," Its chief value is that it makes one want to be a "good reader" in Lewis' sense, a reader who "receives" literature rather than "using" it for extra-1iterary purposes. One cannot read his description of bad readers without wincing at one's own bad reading, and one cannot read his description of the good reader, and of the fruits of good reading, without a sense of re-commitment. Fortunately he avoids the chief temptation of those who write about good and bad readers: somehow he has managed to keep the borderline open between the two countries. Too often the author who exhorts us to join the highbrows ends by encouraging snobbism. I suspect that many a reader has failed to develop a true taste for good literature by being led to scoff prematurely at the "bad" books he really enjoys. Dwight McDonald's recent discussion of "Masscult" and "Midcult," for example, inevitably encourages the Pharisees: "I may not know much about literature, but 1 know what I'm supposed to dislike." Lewis, by contrast, charts a path to good reading that most men of intelligence can follow, and he makes it quite clear that those who do not may still be, in spite of their failure, children of the covenant for quite other reasons. His chapter on "False Characterizations" should be studied carefully by all those who think that they can divide the highbrows from the lowbrows by totting up lists of preferred titles, or even by studying carefully the best books. What, then, are the marks of the good reader? Putting together what is said in different chapters, one gets the following profile: The good reader re-reads. He cares about reading as something more than a pastime; for him the reading of a book is often comparable only to "experiences of love, religion, or bereavement," and he finds himself living with his memories of his reading. Books provide him "with a sort of iconography" by which he can "interpret or sum up" his experience (Readers who think that this might describe how bad readers like Don Quixote or Emma 3ovary use books are answered in later chapters.) His reading cannot be confused with mere status seeking or with self-improvement through cultural 52 climbing; he is not a "lltera'-y Puritan" who identifies value with the culturally useful or with tne solemn. Unlike the bad reader, he is not a slave to narrative interest, though, unlike some "literary Puritans," he feels free to enjoy narrative interest as one reward of reading, He reads aurally. He attends to style, savoring the music of words without becoming a "Stylemonger." On the other hand...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 51-54
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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