A Year of Reading in Review: My Year with Jack

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My year with Jack (aka Clive Staples Lewis) was completely unplanned. Everywhere I turned in 2018, there was another C.S. Lewis text waiting for me to arrive. If I had realized going into the New Year last year that I was going to be reading so much of Lewis and about Lewis, I probably would have set some goals or made a plan or something else equally systematic and stressful sounding. But, instead, I just kept doing the next right thing, and that led me back to Jack again and again.

First, I should definitely thank my friend Amy for starting a local C.S. Lewis bookclub. NarnianShe had me and a handful of other moms reading Mere Christianity interspersed with The Great Divorce last winter before spring arrived and she headed outside to her butterfly garden for the remainder of the growing season. That led me down a rabbit trail to a Lewis biography called The Narnian by Alan Jacobs (many thanks to co-book-clubber, Cassie, for the suggestion). Of the many nice things I can say about this Lewis book club, probably the best element is that many of the same women are also reading Charlotte Mason’s volumes along with me, and we have found so very many like-minded ideas between those two authors.

I took a break from Lewis at that point. I spent the spring reading Ambleside Online selections, The Wind in the Willows and Understood Betsy, as well as Roald Dahl books James and the Giant Peach and Danny the Champion of the World to my would-be 2nd grader. I also read a smattering of other books this year — my first Wodehouse, True Grit, The Invention of Wings, Go Set a Watchman, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and a reread of The Great Gatsby. Later in the summer, I kept up with the Circe Institute’s Close Reads podcasts covering American short stories — The Glass Menagerie, Rip Van Winkle, and Desiree’s Baby to name a few — and finally gave Outlander a go on audiobook (but decided to stop at the first book) while I was packing up my household to move to another house.

By late summer, I dove into some Tolkien (Fellowship and The Hobbit), and that’s when I IEW Narniarealized I was making my way back around to Lewis. I decided to take an offer to teach a homeschool group using the IEW Following Narnia curriculum. I had taught Volume 2 in the recent past, so agreeing to teach Volume 1 felt right and good. The curriculum has students read The Magician’s Nephew before The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which sort of bristled me because I have one student who had never read Wardrobe (I’m of the mind that one should enter Narnia through the Wardrobe, you know?). Picking back up with Lewis was so enjoyable after a summer of other wanderings, and reading Narnia after having read The Narnian biography was quite an experience. I realized that Lewis wrote so much of his own experiences into Narnia. Also, side note: Kenneth Branaugh does an excellent job narrating Narnia on audiobook.

Later I reread The Screwtape Letters (but couldn’t show up for the book club meeting) and am finally rounding out this year of C.S. Lewis with my first reading of The Abolition of Man (to be discussed this week!). Even though I have a lot more Lewis to read (and reread) before I can call myself a Lewis scholar, I can already tell that The Abolition of Man is going to be a keystone book in my studies. The margins of my book and the pages of my commonplace notebook are filled with notes identifying ideas Lewis was expressing that I’ve heard from other sources (who were all quoting this one little book). And, in many cases, I have the words, “Reminds me of [Charlotte Mason]’s idea …” written — not that either would have read each other’s works, but I like to think they would have seen eye to eye. I offer no proof of this. It’s just my own observation.

I guess, adding it all up, I read six books written by C.S. Lewis and one biography about Lewis this past year. Could I have plowed through more if I had made a plan? Perhaps one per month? Or even two per month to get through most of his catalog? Yes, definitely. But, I’m calling this my year of Lewis because it was unplanned and I read six of his books. I’ve never had a year like that with a single author. Everything I read this year had a touch of Lewis from the recesses of my mind. That was a great way to read (even if I didn’t plan it). I’m thinking maybe next year might be a George Macdonald year. Doesn’t that sound lovely?

Until next time, I’m reading:

Novels:

Moderately challenging books:

Stiff books:

Diana

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