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Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  58,694 ratings  ·  2,123 reviews
Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life is a partial autobiography describing Lewis' conversion to Christianity. The book overall contains less detail concerning specific events than typical autobiographies. This is because his purpose in writing wasn't primarily historical. His aim was to identify & describe the events surrounding his accidental discovery of & conseq ...more
Paperback, 185 pages
Published (first published 1955)
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Lee With my mother's death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, …moreWith my mother's death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of Joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.(less)

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Apr 06, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
C.S. Lewis, the man that "thought his way to God" (according to the back of the book), isn't really all man - he's part reading machine. Everything, every sentence, in his spiritual autobiography is laden with some classical allusion to a work that the normal person hasn't read in Greek or Latin.
After the death of his mother in his youth, Lewis enters a long lasting period of atheism. Although he knew epistemologically that God didn't exist, he still felt that there was something else "out there
Mike (the Paladin)
Okay, I started this today and finished it today, and will probably reread it. This has happened with many of Lewis' books. I've read The Four Loves several times and am getting ready to reread Miracles. There often seems to be a lot that I don't get first time through.

This is a wonderful book with some less than wonderful parts. By that I mean discourses on difficult or unpleasant events and/or topics. I won't try to go over this volume in any kind of detail. I suspect it will "strike" differen
Jul 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Many of us are familiar with The Chronicles Of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and perhaps even Mere Christianity, but I suspect few readers are acquainted with their author, C. S. Lewis, often regarded as one of the most influential writers of his day. In fact, I never knew what the initials in his name stood for. I spent three invigorating days getting re-acquainted with the early life that shaped the literary talent of Lewis, indisputably an intellectual giant of the twentieth century. This is ...more
Mark Adderley
May 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spiritual
There's not much to say about this book, as it is famous, and has been reviewed many times. It's about C. S. Lewis' conversion from atheism to Christianity. He identifies a quality which he calls "Joy," which occurs in what he describes as "a stab of joy." This is the a moment of perfect happiness occasioned by . . . well, it differs. Lewis explains that he got three stabs of joy in his youth: once from the a model garden in a biscuit-tin lid that his brother had made, once while reading Beatix ...more
Douglas Wilson
Feb 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Great. Finished yet again in November of 2017. And again in January of 2018.
Oct 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: autobiogrophies
"Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back....everything is different."

I can easily mark this as my favorite autobiography. It didn't drone on and on as most others do. Starting out in his childhood, spreading through his years at Oxford and when he served as professor, and ending shortly after his conversion to Christianity, there was insight for almost every season of life. I've been a long-time reader of many of the classic Lewis works (Mere Christianity, Narnia, e
Jan 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Second book down of my 2020 reading challenge: read all of C.S. Lewis's published works.

I chose Surprised By Joy as one of the first to read this year as it is, in many aspects, essentially an autobiography. I was hoping to learn more about the author to see how his life and upbringing influenced his writing.

Jack, Jack, Jack. The more I read about him, and from him, the more I feel a connection in my soul. This dude says, in the simplest ways, things I feel personally. Even things I never real
Brittany Petruzzi
Considering all the things we’ve studied at New Saint Andrews—and the way it keeps coming back to one thing—I find it highly interesting that it was essentially C.S. Lewis’ love of story that brought him to Christ. If you think about it, story is what all of his experiences of Sehnsucht have in common. Most of the Sehnsucht took place while reading poetry or literature, and if not, it was because it transported him to the places in those stories. For example, looking up at the night sky took him ...more
Matthew Ted
82nd book of 2021.

Told by the lady at the desk that purchasing only the small and rather beaten Oxford Dictionary in my hands was not enough to use my card, I picked up Lewis' Surprised by Joy. At times, I've been intrigued by some of his non-fiction work such as Mere Christianity or more pressingly, Grief Observed, but this one gave itself up to me. That day, with more urgent things on my list, I began reading it.

Lewis writes surprisingly: in place of the dogmatic prose I imagined, I found wa
Courtney Carlson
Feb 13, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This was interesting, but considering the very lengthy and detailed set-up, the denouement was hasty and disappointing. It barely brought together any of the varied strands he'd investigated; especially, his final treatment of “Joy” is relegated to one brief paragraph on the final page, and he fails to explain how Christianity satisfies/fulfills this feeling.

He believes it does, as he says in Mere Christianity: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logic
Lynne King
Aug 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The life of C S Lewis is edifying and such a delight to read. He has substance and that's wonderful! ...more
Anna Mussmann
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Such a wonderful read! A few thoughts and quotes:

-I was delighted to see that Edith Nesbit and Beatrix Potter had a significant impact on Lewis’ childhood.

-I appreciate Lewis’ discussion of the difference between “wonder” fantasy, and “fantasy” that’s focused on wish-fulfillment. “When the boy passes from nursery literature to school-stories he is going down, not up. Peter Rabbit pleases a disinterested imagination, for the child does not want to be a rabbit. . . but the story of the unpromisin
Justin Wiggins
May 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
My favorite work of non-fiction by C.S.Lewis used to be Mere Christianity because it played such a huge role in my conversion from Agnosticism to Christianity years ago, and I really found it fascinating how Lewis wrote about the harmony between reason, faith, imagination, and one's own personal experience all coming together by grace.
I recently re-read Surprised by Joy for the fifth time, and it has become my favorite work of non-fiction by Lewis- his personal story is more of a powerful book
Olivier Delaye
Jan 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
C. S. Lewis, one of J. R. R. Tolkien's best friends and creator of the Narnia Chronicles, among others. Pure genius. Period. ...more
Apr 24, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
This book wasn't what I was expecting. At first, I had expected it to be the story of how Lewis met his wife, Joy, as was portrayed in the movie SHADOWLANDS with Anthony Hopkins. Upon learning that such was not the case, I then expected it to be a straight-forward autobiographical account of Lewis' life. Wrong again. Actually, SURPRISED BY JOY is a memoir about Lewis' formative years. More specifically, it deals with Lewis' early rejection of Christianity and the manner in which he eventually re ...more
David Sarkies
May 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Christians and Literature Lovers
Recommended to David by: Some guy at church
Shelves: christian
Not quite an autobiography
24 May 2014

It is a little difficult to categorise this book since while in part it is an autobiography, Lewis goes to great pains to exclaim otherwise. One could also suggest that it falls into a category of Christian literature known as a testimony: a story that is told by the author as to how they became a Christian. However this particular book sort of does not follow the two forms that that type of literature takes, which are:

1) I was a really, really, really bad p
Jan 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Interesting to read immediately after The Pilgrim's Regress. I could see how the latter was an allegorical representation of his own conversion. I only wish he'd written a regular autobiography as well, for I'm very interested to hear of his later life in his own words.

Recommended for: Ages 15 to Adult (mentions of sinful behavior by the other boys at school, and mentions of certain temptations)

Many years ago, I read the first few chapters of this book as research for a speech on C.S. Lewis. I
That was an epic read! I feel as though I come away with a much greater understanding of C. S. Lewis, and therefore am better suited to understand the Chronicles of Narnia (which I have still not finished...)

The theme woven through this book, bringing harmony to Lewis's autobiography, is a recurring experience he referred to as Joy. Here is his description of it:

"It is...an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical ter
"Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side." C.S. Lewis should know, he was one.

It is a rare thing to find a book that speaks to you so thoroughly and on so many levels. This was a complete surprise, something I rather stumbled upon because of a reference to it in another book. And what a surprise! Reading each chapter, each paragraph, each sentence, felt much like catching up with an old and dear friend, someone who understands your
May 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book definitely isn't for everybody, but to me at least it was brilliant. Lewis' recounts the comings and goings of his imaginative and intellectual life in deeply personal and lucid prose. Different phases of his thoughts, convictions and temperament unravel and entwine like a tapestry, with the thread of Joy in the center.

The many references to literary works might put off some people and for me many went over my head as well, though some spoke vaguely to memory and others to imagination
Michael Perkins
Nov 01, 2014 rated it liked it
I first read this book around age 20. I proceeded to read most of the Lewis "canon" after that.

The problem with much of his canon is that Lewis changed his mind about many things later in life, especially his approach to apologetics. And then a final wave of change from a real life Joy, came late in life.

There are many references, and complaints, in the reviews here of Lewis constantly citing literary references in his memoir. I think it's a reasonable assumption that he had his friends and col
Nick Imrie
'I never read an autobiography in which the parts devoted to the earlier years were not far the most interesting.' C.S. Lewis Surprised by Joy

'This book is written partly in answer to requests that I would tell how I passed from Atheism to Christianity […] The book aims at telling the story of my conversion and is not a general autobiography, still less 'Confession' like those of Augustine or Rousseau. This means in practice that it gets less like a general autobiography as it goes on.' C.S. Lew
Lydia Therese
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Surprised by Joy is by C.S. Lewis.

I really enjoyed this book. I liked learning more about C.S. Lewis's life. I have enjoyed most of the books I have read that are by him, and I enjoyed reading his conversion story.

Many of the references to literature were lost on me, though. He compared an event in his life to some ancient poem that I had never read, and so most of that side of the book was lost on me.

However, even if I didn't understand a lot of the references, I still liked reading the book
Demetrius Rogers
Jun 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooks, memoir
I love The Chronicles of Narnia. I even like The Screwtape Letters. But, I haven't really connected with Lewis' essays as much. I've never really been able to follow his train of thought. Maybe it's his brittishness, or perhaps his discursive mind, but I just can't seem to hang with his discourse. However, I love his imaginative works! And oh man, I love his Till We Have Faces. Anybody who can write such literature deserves further investigation. Well, after reading this autobiography, I'm even ...more
Mar 14, 2020 rated it did not like it
Surprised by Tedium! Wow.....that’s 7 hours of my life I’ll never get back! As a teen I read and reread the Chronicles of Narnia...... wonderful books everyone should read........later on I read and enjoyed the Screwtape Letters. But this tedious, boring and over inflated autobiography was painful to read. If it wasn’t a book club pick I definitely would not have finished it!
Perhaps I’m just not smart enough to get all the dropped obscure literature references. I also didn’t understand the poin
Jul 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was a very intellectual engaging book for me. I am amazed at the range and quantity of books that Lewis read (and in original languages at that). Had to even look up a few words to get at what he was trying to communicate to the reader. I don't think that one needs to be a Christian to enjoy this book. His search for truth and joy is something that all humans can understand. ...more
David Mosley
Nov 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read in the following years:
2010 (31 May)
2012 (19 September-3 October)
ValeReads Kyriosity
I read this in high school (discovered a four-leaf clover pressed in it that probably dates from then), but I can't recall if I've ever reread it. I know I couldn't possibly have understood much of it then, and even though I followed relatively more closely now, Lewis's philosophizing and literary copiousness leave me in the dust. Heck, the size of Lewis's brain would leave Jeeves's in the dust. And yet, once he got past his adolescent priggishness (there once was a boy called Clive Staples Lewi ...more
Ian Galey
Jan 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The autobiography of C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy outlines the occurrences of Joy in Lewis's life and how these accompanied him from his childhood to his conversion from atheism (or "anti-theism" as Lewis refers to it) to theism to Christianity. Lewis defines Joy as an intense longing or desire that is itself the most desirable desire. As Lewis discovers, it is not the longing itself that he actually desired but the object of the longing which is for something far greater than and not of this w ...more
Though far above my head, I enjoyed reading this book. Mostly for gems like the following.

"And so the great Angler played His fish and I never dreamed that the hook was in my tongue." pg 211

"Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side." pg 226

"I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obv
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Clive Staples Lewis was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954. He was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge

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