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Thursday, November 29, 2018

All You Need to Know About C.S. Lewis and Other Nonsense

A couple of days ago I read a post in the National Catholic Register by Fr. John Cush, who was giving recommendations for quality Catholic fiction to read. 

As I almost NEVER read fiction, and have taken significant flack for my stubbornness in avoiding it, I thought just maybe there would be something on his list I could consider to pacify my detractors.  As it turns out,
I have actually read the first in the list mentioned in the article---“Lord of the World,” by Robert Hugh Benson, published in 1907.  (I actually do recommend it.)

I read a lot more than most people I know.  I didn’t as a child or an adolescent, nor even as a young adult.  I read only what was required in school.  There was never any pleasure for me in sitting long hours reading stories by myself.  That attitude changed somewhat when I discovered biographies and for a brief spurt in my thirties I was reading true crime detective stories.  I still enjoy biographies, but the crime stuff got old in a hurry. 
Some of my favorite bios are of Golda Meir, Theodore Roosevelt, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Ulysses S. Grant, Dietrich von Hildebrand, and Whittaker Chambers.  An odd mix to be sure, but all their lives have had a distinct impact on history. 
I have to admit it was Glenn Beck (of all people) who actually lit the fire under my reading habits.  Back when he had an afternoon program on Fox News, I was impressed with his presentation of one title after another that held the keys to understanding history and modern politics.  I told myself then, that whereas I had not filled my brain with these things when given the opportunity in college, there was nothing to say I could not invest the time as a mature adult to get the education I refused to soak up when my parents were paying for it.  It was about that same time we all were introduced to Barack Obama and my instincts told me NOW WAS THE TIME to start paying attention to what was going on in the world.
I began by reading aloud to my husband, Spencer, on a car trip, selecting a book that would interest him.  (People say they can’t read in the car, but I find the solution to car sickness is to read aloud.  It puts pressure on your diaphragm and actually stills your stomach.  Humming has the same affect.  Try it.) 
This was a book he’d been given as a gift but had not had time to read yet, “Band of Brothers.”  I would never have selected WWII as a place to start my reading life, but there it was and so it began.  The pill went down rather easily and a true fascination of war and conflict and the human lives and stories invested in it took over.  I discovered a book titled “Conduct Under Fire” on a table at Costco that looked interesting.  It turned out to be so gut wrenchingly sad I put it down after only about 40 pages, unwilling to open my eyes to the horrors of combat against godless blood thirsty enemies.  Guilt led me to pick it up again after a few days, for the sake of the brave men who endured it, and for their sake, I forced myself to know their experiences and remember their suffering.  It is written by the son of one of those brave men in the story.
This initiated my search for why things happen, things so heartbreakingly sad, and so incredibly violent and unimaginable, which has taken me on a G.K. Chesterton trip around the world to get back in my own front door.  I have concluded that it is ever, and can always be, reduced to a struggle between good and evil, the Catholic Church and the devil—the defender of truth and what is good vs. every evil Satan can throw at it.  This is at the root of all things in this world. 
But back to the fiction article….  To my surprise Fr. Cush had this to say about C.S. Lewis: 
There are some books that tangentially touch on Catholic themes as part of general Christianity, like the fiction of the Anglican C.S. Lewis. I do not include his work here because he himself is not a Catholic. There are other works of fiction that are steeped in cultural Catholicism, but do not necessarily offer substantial, in my opinion, insights in a Catholic sacramental/moral/theological worldview, like Frank McCourt or even James Joyce. There are others that have a deeply Catholic sensibility, even if they are in a fantasy or a science fiction genre, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. Even though they are epic, I did not include them here. And there are other books, although popular and that have Catholic themes that, for one reason or another, I simply do not recommend, like Endo’s Silence.
This was music to my fiction loathing ears because I can’t stand any of that stuff.  ICK!!!  Maybe it is because I too see the polyester quality of it all, the “looks like but isn’t quite” nature of pretend Christian creatures, plots, and conflicts. What surprised me when I read his list was the number of stories he included about Catholics with serious struggles with their faith, their self control, and their avoidance of sin in the midst of dire poverty, alcoholism, and persecution.  Whew!!!  Are there no happy Catholics in the world to write about?  Not much of a sales pitch for the Church if being Catholic is so difficult and the life so wretchedly unpleasant.  What’s the difference in that and a good description of the Battle of the Bulge, one might ask. 

No.  I don’t like mysteries.  No.  I don’t like science fiction. 
No.  I don’t like romance novels that go on for long stretches describing the well toned slender body of the heroine whose raven hair falls gently over her bare unblemished shoulder.  Or the hero who exudes strength and whose dashing good looks, demand the attention of a room full of people from the moment he enters.  If you do like those things, I simply wonder why.  How much better off are you for taking the days and weeks to read them?  I can tell you right now, the real stories, of real people, whose real lives, have been recorded are more worthwhile than any of this stuff called fiction.  If you are living in a fiction world, then perhaps you are one of those people Mary Ann Kreitzer mentioned in a recent post who only wants to take “the blue pill.”  Maybe your life is so filled with trouble you can only deal with fiction that takes you away from the reality that surrounds you.

My mother may have fallen into that category.  She had a somewhat unhappy life and she absolutely loved novels, the thicker the better, particularly English romance novels with castles, and swords, and armies, and intrigue.  They were a never ending escape for her.  How I wish she had spent as much time finding her way into the Catholic Church where true peace of soul can be found and where suffering can be embraced for our own good.  
(to be continued……..  In the next “episode” hints to improve your reading habits and light the fire in you to read more of the right things.)


  1. Wow! You really do hate fiction!

    I spent my childhood immersed in Grimm's fairy tales and Roman and Greek mythology. When I'd read all of those at the Enoch Pratt Library I moved on to the Norse myths. Somehow I managed to miss the little heroine, Anne of Green Gables who was Mark Twain's favorite so I caught up with that charming girl as an adult.

    You mention Chesterton and I think his sense of wonder came from his love for play. All his fiction is a romp! He was a child (in the sense of we must become like little children) until his dying day. He and Francis hosted parties for children where adults were only on the sidelines. Good fiction is adult play and it keeps the heart young. P.G. Wodehouse, one of my personal favorites, makes me smile just thinking about Bertie Wooster and Jeeves.

    Goodness, how can you dismiss Shakespeare, Chaucer, Chesterton's fiction, Bernanos, Cronin, and a host of others?

    There's a scene in Anne of Green Gables where Anne asks Marilla, "Don't you ever imagine things different from what they are?" When Marrilla says no, Anne replies. "Oh, Marilla, how much you miss."

    Love you, Chriss. But you'll never convince me that fiction is "nonsense."

  2. OK. I confess. I did enjoy Aesop's Fables and the stories of animals written by Thornton Burgess with their virtue and moral lessons. They are a treasure and truly, the Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris are the funniest things ever written, but I think what puts me off nearlyall fiction isits predictability and repititiousness. Same characters, same plots, same conflicts, same resolutions. .....yawn.

  3. I loved fiction as s kid and became more of a nonfiction perdon when I grew up.

  4. Chriss,

    Have never been able to read anything about the American Civil War...too heartbreaking.. although I've read almost all holocaust stories from WWII. I did however read Dr Warren Carroll's The Last Crusade about the Spanish Civil war which I highly recommend to see that General Franco was the good guy and the left Catholic hating communists were the bad guys. Like Hillary, the left of 1939 never got over the fact that General Franco won and they lost...hence all the Franco hating news of last month and moving his remains to another place. Franco and his wife prayed the rosary every day.

    Finding no fiction these days of interest I have turned to Goodwill and other thrift stores to find books written at least 50 years ago before political correctness set in. The westerns are very good - horses and gunslingers and bad women, cowboys and indians and even Mexican migration. I find the writing to be fresh and delightful to read pretense, no political nuances. The human experience pops out from the pages clearly with unforgettable characters ...normal people trying to find their way in life.

    Like Mary Ann, as a child I loved Grimm's Fairy Tales. One book I remember from schooldays that I thoroughly enjoyed was a biography of Abigail Adams from a series in the elementary school library. I still remember passages in it on her life as a child and how her mother was afraid that she would catch Scarlet Fever and would wrap her up in warm clothing and hats and scarves when she went outside (since in the days before penicillin - the miracle drug doctors no longer prescribe because it works - people, especially children, died of scarlet fever. My two older children got it when they were small and one round of penicillin zapped it.) Just found that same little orange covered book on Amazon...but too much money.

    Was in Barnes and Noble day before yesterday. Hadn't been in there for 6 or 8 months. It was one huge liberal leftist indoctrinating platform, all for sale. Any known or unknown anti-Trump person able to tap away on their computer has now had time to write scathing hatred and have it published with glossy cover photos of Trump looking evil. The Obamas now have THEIR OWN SECTION.. an end cap titled OBAMAS with Michelle's book about her becoming herself which the left is saying is the #1 bestseller. Major manipulation going on there. I bought one book of OLD STORIES about the founding of Florida, the customs and lives of the early Florida settlers...then headed for Goodwill to look for a REAL book.

  5. I wonder if reading has come to a near halt since as you say, book stores are nothing more than a liberal propaganda station where progressives gather to sip Starbucks and validate themselves as "the better sort" because they are intellectual enough to read. HA!

    Stick with old books written before "global warming", gay marriage, and Agenda 21.