Why read old books?

In his essay “On the Reading of Old Books,” C.S. Lewis warns of the dangers of reading only new books: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one until you have read an old one in between.” Acknowledging that every age needs correction of its own particular forms of blindness, Lewis see an effective cure to these prejudices. “And that means the old books…. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.”

Mitchell Kalpakgian, “Why Read Old Books?”, New Oxford Review, July-August 2013, 40-41.

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4 thoughts on “Why read old books?

  1. Yes, and the best contemporary science fiction and fantasy does the same thing. It introduces you to people and ways of life that are genuinely different.

    On the other hand, there is nothing more disappointing then picking up some lauded book and finding that the author can think of nothing more for people to do after the singularity then live forever like 21st C. upper manhattanites.

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  2. But contemporary science fiction and fantasy would still be influenced by our own age, no? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying new books are bad.

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  3. I love reaching ‘old’ books. Is it a sad thing that C. S. Lewis’ nonfiction could be considered part of those ‘old’ books? I don’t consider them that way, they have to be written before the 20th Century if you ask me. But I do hear from peers, from time to time, that I should stop with my boring and old and nerdy books. Some are Lewis.

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  4. Agreed, Lewis isn’t that old. Although I think reading his works does accomplish the purpose he advocates, since he himself is utterly saturated in old books and what I would call a premodern outlook. My co-workers too are often puzzled to see me carrying around some worn and faded old volume on my lunch hour. “What’s that? It looks really old!”

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