It’s been a long time since I’ve been with my friends the water-rat, the mole, the toad, and the badger. Last week I decided to enter into their world again with Kenneth Grahame’s classic. Almost immediately after opening the pages of the book (or to be more precise, pressing play on my tablet, but that doesn’t have the same ring to it), a euphoric joy settled upon me. There is something so cozy, homey, and familiar about their world, which is very much like our own. At the same time, their world is sufficiently different from ours to infuse the latter with a sense of the marvelous, enabling one to approach everyday life with a new splendor and clarity. I come away from The Wind in the Willows seeing the real world–and all the interesting characters I am privileged to know within it, whose idiosyncrasies are just as fascinating as those of the four friends–with fresh appreciation.
It’s sometimes hard to find others who share my joy of reading–not to find others who enjoy reading, mind you, but others who derive this same type of joy from books that I’ve been describing (and which is not limited to The Wind in the Willows). Anyone can understand how spending time with the water-rat and mole might be entertaining, but few people understand why my life is enriched and my soul expanded each time I enter into their world. So imagine my delight when HarperOne published a book that exactly describes the joyful experience of reading in all the contours and particularities that I feel.
The book is an anthology of C.S. Lewis’s observations about reading, drawn from his corpus of books, essays, and letters. Titled, The Reading Life: The Joy of Seeing New World Through Others’ Eyes, the book shows Lewis as a kindred spirit who understands how the joy of reading is organically connected to its ability to enlarge the soul, to clarify one’s vision of the world, and to deliver one from the parochialism of the self. I’m listening to the book on audio but ended up purchasing a hard-copy just to track down one particularly insightful quote. The quote is from p. 34-35 of The Reading Life and originally appeared in Lewis’s essay ‘On Three Ways of Writing for Children’
“…fairy land arouses a longing for he knows not what. It stirs and troubles him (to his life-long enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension of depth. He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.” C.S. Lewis, The Reading Life: The Joy of Seeing New World Through Others’ Eyes, p. 34-35