Life as a Reading Challenge, Chapter 3
I have started to see challenges everywhere I go. Just a few days ago, I stumbled upon this seemingly innocent quote from C.S. Lewis . . .
"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 for every three new ones."
. . . and I wondered why there isn't (to paraphrase his contemporary, G.K. Chesterton) a "Save Me from Being a Child of My Age!" Challenge. =P
It's a question I can answer for myself. It's too hard: that's why. One thing I learned recently is how quickly a challenge can turn into a chore. And there are few "reading chores" bigger than what this commitment demands. Whether one is reading an equal number of "old" and "new" books, making sure to alternate between the two--or at least one "old" book for every three "new" reads--it's a pretty big deal. And it's one that could, uh, get old fast.
(Note: use of scare quotes is due to the lack of a clear time frame. When, exactly, does a book become "old"? Joshua suggests letting it age fifty years. Because I like complicating perfectly straightforward stuff, I think that an individual reader can consider a book "old" only when it came out fifty years before the year he was born.)
On the other hand . . . I think Lewis is on to something--the same thing Chesterton was on to when he wrote of the "degrading slavery" of being merely a child of one's own age, which, in this case, comes from reading only the books of one's own age. (It presumably gets worse when one also keeps only to the books from one's own age group. =P)
Anyway, my thoughts on this issue haven't settled into anything definite yet, but I know I'm not too pleased with the reading I've already done this January. I've been used to thinking of myself as a very eclectic reader--but now my book list begs to differ:
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Middle Grade Fantasy
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Middle Grade Fantasy
King Solomon's Mines
H. Rider Haggard
Classic Adventure Literature
Middle Grade Science Fiction
Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator
Middle Grade Mystery
Johnny Dixon and the Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull
Middle Grade Gothic
Out of seven books, exactly one can be properly described as "old." (The one from the 80s is just "retro.") And although I seem to have lots of variety when it comes to genres, there's no denying that most of my reading falls under the (marvelous) MG umbrella. And even the defense that at least it's out of my "age group" falls flat because I think it perfectly reflects my arrested emotional age. =P
A last note for this post:
For me, the quantity of books read is always second to the quality of the reading experience. I don't like reading books for the sake of reading them--or for the sake of quotas. But something about this measured mixing of "old" and "new" appeals to me: it is in the "both-and" spirit that makes reading so rich. I'll be thinking of this some more.
Image Sources: a) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling, b) Johnny Dixon and the Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull by John Bellairs