I’m calling, “Do-over.”
I do not want to leave the impetus given by J.D. Salinger behind, but I do want to make use of this space. So, after having taken time to rethink what this blog should be, I’ve decided to make it over into a book blog. But a very specific sort of book blog, taking my direction from an exhortation of C.S. Lewis. In the Introduction to St. Vladimir Seminary Press’ edition of Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation,” Lewis writes:
It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.
This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.
Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why—the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (“mere Christianity” as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.*
Challenge accepted. Henceforth, I want to frame my readings in this way: one old book for every three (or fewer) new ones.
And thus the vision for this blog. I will chronicle my readings of “new, new, new, old” in what I hope will be a compelling format for a blog. This chronicling will not be academic reviews per se. Rather, I hope to record how the books strike me, how they are useful for my continuing formation and education.
Consider if you will a Cistercian monastery. During meals at the monastery, there is silence except for the voice of one monk, who reads through a book. The other monks eat and listen to this real-life, audio book. Throughout the remainder of the day, then, they have the opportunity to meditate on the book.
This is how I want the posts on this blog to be. Meditations in response to each book rather than reviews of them. Sound palatable?
More to follow…
* emphasis added