Monday, January 21, 2013

Review of "From the Library of C.S. Lewis" by James Stuart Bell

So... this book took me a lot longer to get through that it probably should have (sorry publishers and Blogging for Books!), though in my defense this book is long (402 pages) and a bit of a slog.

From the Library of C.S. Lewis is a collection of quotations and passages from the books that were on C.S. Lewis's shelves or mentioned in his works. In runs the whole spectrum, ranging from ancient to modern and Protestant to Catholic to Orthodox (I don't remember there being any major non-Christian sources, but don't hold me to that since it's been a while since I started the thing). The editors have organized the citations by category ("God's Love", "Knowing God", etc) and provided translations and editions that are for the most part easy to read and fairly compact.

That said, I'm not entirely convinced this is a book that really needs to exist.
Don't get me wrong- I understand the appeal of a book titled From the Library of C.S. Lewis. Despite my occasional theological differences with him, I love Lewis's writings very much and would certainly rank him among the top spiritual influences in my life. I in fact would like both to know more about what C.S. Lewis read/how it influenced him, and read more of the books that influenced him myself. Having a list of what was on his bookshelf is certainly a step in the right direction.

And yet, I'm still not sold on the value of this collection. For one, we're not told if the passages selected are ones that were particularly influential on Lewis, or just happen to be good passages from a spiritual book that Lewis owned. Were they ones that he himself marked off? Or just ones that the compilers picked because they are short and complete passages? If the former, then we are probably indeed getting a better picture of Lewis and being shaped in a Lewis-ian way ourselves; but if the latter, then however good and useful the quotations might be, they're not particularly living up to the promise of the title.

For that matter, the book itself is a bit unclear on its own goals. It seems to be a catalog of spiritual readings drawn from the spiritual books that Lewis owned/read. But to what end? Are these selections supposed to whet my appetite for reading the whole of the books they're culled from? If so, then why did this need to be 400 pages long? Wouldn't a shorter book have done the same thing? Or is the point just my own spiritual growth? If that is the case, then why does it matter that the readings were chosen from Lewis's library?

Again, the book is well done, the selections are interesting and seem to be (for the most part) solid enough theologically. I'm just not sold on it either as a devotional (presumably the main point) or as a more academic work (probably at least a lesser point).

I received this book for free from the publisher on the condition that I write a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

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