Review: An Experiment in Criticism

An Experiment in Criticism
An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very interesting read. What is a good book? Why should we read it? How should we read it? Lewis gives some good answers. He stated his aim: “If all went ideally well we should end by defining good literature as that which permits, invites, or even compels good reading; and bad, as that which does the same for bad reading.” He asserts a good book is art, to be received and there is greater benefit than the experience or the event.

He wrote, “This, so far as I can see, is the specific value or good of literature considered as Logos; it admits us to experiences other than our own.” And, “But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.”

As he touched on good reasons to read, I thought about how arrogant or perilously indifferent the man is who doesn’t read. He must assume, through either arrogance or indifference, that his own experience, perspective, and personal knowledge store are either all there is to be had or else all he shall ever need. In this sense, I suppose the adage is true that the man who doesn’t read has no advantage over the one who cannot read.

This book is a criticism of criticism. Don’t pay much attention to the lists of books you should read to be thought well-read or literary. Begin to read and it will lead you to other works and your discernment will be refined. Think about books from Lewis’ perspective that a good book is “that which permits, invites, or even compels good reading.” A good book leaves you better in some way than before you read it.

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  • Doug Newell

    Thanks for the review, as always. Would you consider this to be a popular level work or more academic?

    • shortthoughts

      Since Lewis is writing against the academic, this book is not academic, but I wouldn’t class it popular either. He divides readers into literary and unliterary. This book is written to the literary class. He is developing an argument throughout so it’s not a light read. It can be a little hard to follow at times but when you get to the end, he really pulls it all together. The last chapter and the epilogue and really good.