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An Experiment in Criticism

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  1,880 ratings  ·  270 reviews
Why do we read literature and how do we judge it? C.S. Lewis's classic analysis springs from the conviction that literature exists for the joy of the reader and that books should be judged by the kind of reading they invite. Crucial to his notion of judging literature is a commitment to laying aside expectations and values extraneous to the work, in order to approach it ...more
Paperback, 152 pages
Published January 31st 1992 by Cambridge University Press (first published 1961)
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Naísia Quoting a review by user Readandpoder:

"Lewis's proposal is that we judge books by the way people read them. Focus on what constitutes good reading,…more
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"Lewis's proposal is that we judge books by the way people read them. Focus on what constitutes good reading, rather than the elements of a good book". (less)

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Manuel Antão
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Cultural Chicken Soup for the Soul:"An Experiment in Criticism" by C. S. Lewis


"Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek
...more
Samir Rawas Sarayji
This is partially a review and partially a reflection. I expect on my second reading to expand on the review part of it, but for now, it has inspired me to put some personal thoughts together regarding how I read.

In C.S. Lewis’ book An Experiment in Criticism, I found a thread of thought that was both engaging and insightful where he proposed a thought experiment involving literary criticism.

Lewis suggests that books should be judged by how they are read rather than how they are written, and
...more
Jesse
Apr 21, 2009 rated it liked it
Another good example as to why it's a shame C.S. Lewis has been largely abandoned to the realm of religious studies--I can't imagine many non-religious literary critics would bother touching this now. In a lot of ways this is a proto-text for Reader Response theory, with Lewis exploring why making a distinction between what is "good" literature and what is "bad" literature is less important than analyzing the person reading it (which he breaks into the "literary" and "unliterary"). Of course the ...more
Jeremy
Praise for the book. Here's a (long) list of all of the references to other works. See Plodcast, Episode #24: great books are the books that the people you admire read. Related poem by Piper.

See some explanatory notes here: Chs. 1–3, Chs. 4–6, Chs. 7–8, Chs. 9–Epilogue

I haven't worked it all out yet, but there's some overlap in some of Lewis's earlier essays (all in On Stories): "On Juvenile Tastes" (1958), "Different Tastes in Literature" (1946), and "On Criticism" (1960s—unfinished).

Ch. 1: The
...more
ladydusk
Feb 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
I read this to read along with the Literary Life Podcast. They finished ages ago, but I finished today.

I really think the Epilogue helped me understand the whole better, but I suppose that's because I read Madeleine L'Engle who talks often of being in kairos which is her way of saying time out of time - herself without knowledge of self. That's what Lewis is talking about as a reader - and readers have been there. The world stops and you can only read because of that stripping away of the
...more
Jeannette
Oct 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have always loved Lewis for his Children’s books but this book gave me a new appreciation for his brilliance. Such a fascinating discussion of what exactly is good literature, how we should read it and how it interacts with us. Literature is art. No wonder I love reading so much.
Brenden Link
Jan 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Donna Link
Recommended to Brenden by: T. David Gordon
If you haven't read anything on literary criticism, this little book by C.S. Lewis will open your mind to a whole new world -- the world of the text, and it well-read.

Lewis suggests that rather than judging the quality of books by their mere nature and/or content, one should judge them by the nature in which they are read. For example, some people read books only once to gratify some curiosity or lust, only to abandon the books forever afterwards. Contrarily, those who truly love their books
...more
Jasmine
"But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself"
C.S. Lewis, 'An Experiment in Criticism', (p.141)

"Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self,
...more
Brenton
Dec 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An Experiment in Criticism is a fun little book. C.S. Lewis tries to answer the question leading critics struggle with all the time: what makes great literature? Lewis turns the question on its head by asking, “What makes a good reader?” In answering this question, he considers in the 150 short pages of An Experiment in Criticism a vast swath of literature. In turning the entire project around, Lewis has the opportunity to challenge some of the assumptions of the literary world. In particular, ...more
Josiah
Sep 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a thought-provoking book that I'm pretty sure I don't fully understand yet, and I probably am going to re-read this again in a month to fully get it. There were a lot of good lines from this book that struck me, and several sections I'm probably going to start using in the English classes I teach. Probably going to be bumping this up to 5 stars when I get to re-reading it in a month.

Rating: 4-4.5 Stars (Excellent).
gloriabluestocking
Nov 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Wow.
I think this book calls for a reread. Several.
But what little I did skim off the surface is fat enough to digest for a while.
Lewis' conception of literary reading and criticism reveals a humility and dexterity which makes me love him more than ever.
Some ideas which stand out now:
-literary reading as a receiving, with a view to the work itself, divorced from our experience of or our opinions about the work. There's a "surrender needed for the reception of good work. You cannot be armed to
...more
John
Oct 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Yup. I liked it. Like most of Lewis' books, he says more in 140 pages than most do in 300. But I suppose he also looks deeply into little to produce much. When most are raking leaves and combing grass, Lewis is 20 feet deep and analyzing roots.
Whitney
Oct 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“But literary people are always looking for leisure and silence in which to read and do so with their whole attention. When they are denied such attentive and undisturbed reading even for a few days they feel impoverished.” (pp. 2-3).

An Experiment in Criticism by CS Lewis energized me, chastened me, befuddled me, and inspired me. It’s a book written to answer the question - why read literature and how do we judge it?

It’s a short book (141 pages!) that occasionally wandered into territory
...more
Sharon Barrow Wilfong
Sep 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An Experiment in Criticism is a series of essays that C.S. Lewis wrote about the habits of reading: why does one read, to what purpose does one read and what kind of taste does one possess that motivates a person to read one sort of book instead of another.

What I like best about Lewis is his ability to perfectly express how I feel about something. I tend to struggle to find the right words to fully communicate to myself and to others what it is I mean to say or feel about a subject. If I read
...more
Douglas Wilson
Mar 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary-study
Great. And finished yet another time in November of 2017.
Stephen Hayes
Aug 21, 2019 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Graham Downs
Recommended to Stephen by: Dr Gerhard Wolmarans
Having recently heard Dr Gerhard Wolmarans of the University of Pretoria Political Science Department speak on this book, twice, I thought I'd better read it. It's been sitting on my shelf for 40 years or more, and if I had read it before, I couldn't remember doing so.

Political Science? Not English literature?

Yes, Dr Wolmarans said that C.S. Lewis has a great deal to tell use about human diversity, and living in a multicultural society. He says there are two ways of reading a book: Using a book
...more
Carol Bakker
Again (!) I am amazed at how challenging reading through C.S. Lewis's books can be. Lewis is the champion of pull-0ut quotes; those alone, without their context, make this book worth reading. I love the parts I understand, but I understand how limited my comprehension is. This is a book that will stay on my shelf, and will insist on being re-read.

Two quotes (among two dozen delectables):

On a common way to misread: We are so busy doing things with the work that we give it too little change to
...more
Jennifer
Jan 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013-reads
It is a true pity that George Orwell and C.S. Lewis never happened to get drunk at the same bar and enter into a violent, gin-fueled debate over literary criticism, because that might have changed the course of the development of literature in the 20th century. Or perhaps it would only have made the bartender rich selling tickets to the show. Sadly, we'll never know.

Lewis' radical proposition here is that it is as much the reader as the text which determines whether a book is "good" or "bad"
...more
Susan Budd
Sep 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I could listen to Professor Lewis talk about books for hours.
Jess
Dec 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’m thankful to have read this book while The Literary Life podcast ladies were holding my hand. Food for thought. To be read again.
Amy Edwards
Jan 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, even though I realize that I probably don't have the categories in my mind (yet) to fully understand Lewis here. This is not exactly a book review, but a book reaction.

Am I a literary reader? I hope so, but I probably have a long way to go. Lewis says, "We love to hear exactly how others enjoy what we enjoy ourselves." This explains why it is so much fun to read what critics or bloggers or other Goodreads reviewers have to say about books. And even though
...more
Kim
Oct 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: c-s-lewis
So much in this book that I know it'll be a reread or even a good reference as I read other books. Such a different way to consider reading that hasn't really been discussed much in other places. One of the quotes that has been challenging me is this:

“The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. (There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot
...more
Genni
Jan 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: re-read
Lewis presents the argument that rather than judging books, we should judge readers or HOW the book is read. His arguments are succinct and well-organized.

For today's readers, some terminology may be questionable and some examples are potentially offensive. I, myself, said, "Ouch!" a time or two. However, at the end of the book, I saw that Lewis was mostly correct and that by opening myself up to some of the criticisms, the art of reading was refined for me. As I care very much about reading, I
...more
Renee
Nov 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is no secret that I am a Lewis fan, and yet again I wasn't disappointed. This books is more about the books then the types of readers. He does address the difference between literary and unliterary readers and it make sense to me. I absolutely love the way he talks about books, almost like they are his closest friends.

I would recommend this book got anyone who loves books and will be adding it to the list of highschool books for our little homeschool.
Nick
Aug 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
There are elements of this book that I really enjoyed, but there were also a great many parts in which I felt like a freshman in a doctoral level class.

I can't say that I fully grasp all aspects of his argument. The parts that I did understand, however, where interesting. I definitely need to revisit this.
David
May 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
How do you, or should you, read a book? Often we criticize books by saying some are good and some are bad. So if you are someone who likes a "bad" book, the rest of us can condescendingly look down on you (such as those of you who like Twilight). Lewis argues that this is wrong, that we should think more about how one reads. His criticisms often hit close to home. He argues that many read when they are bored or just to pass the time. Such persons read to get to the event, to get the gist of the ...more
Bruce
Aug 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
In this book Lewis proposes to critique readers and types of reading, leaving the distinction between books themselves as a corollary to the primary experiment. Here are a couple of quotations that struck me: “The first demand any work of any art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way….The distinction can hardly be better expressed than by saying that the many use art and the few receive it.” After describing the reading habits of the “unliterary” ...more
Michael Perkins
“An unliterary man may be defined as one who reads books once only. . . . We do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading. Not till the curiosity, the sheer narrative lust, has been given its sop and laid asleep, are we at leisure to savour the real beauties. Till then, it is like wasting great wine on a ravenous natural thirst which merely wants cold wetness.” (C.S. Lewis)
Anna Mussmann
Nov 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
In this little volume C.S. Lewis suggests that instead of deciding whether a given book is “good” or “bad”--instead of sitting in literary judgement on it--we evaluate how we read it. Learning to read well will allow us to make books good. He also argues that instead of trying to “argue with the author as we read,” instead of forming premature opinions, we must open ourselves up to each author before we try to judge. After all, how can we know for sure what they are trying to do, and whether ...more
Sarah Middlestead
2019 Book Challenge: a book by CS Lewis

In this book we see Lewis turn artistic and literary criticism on its head. His proposal is not to evaluate literature by our own tastes, but by the type of reading a book elicits. Lewis calls us to define good books by ones that “permit, invite, or compel” good reading. A bad book is one in which a good reading is impossible. Lewis doesn’t stop here, however. “But in order to pronounce a book bad it is not enough to discover that it elicits no good
...more
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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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“In great literature, I become a thousand different men but still remain myself.” 172 likes
“The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes connot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries for a dog. Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality... in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad of eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.” 62 likes
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