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An Experiment in Criticism

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  1,724 ratings  ·  242 reviews
Professor Lewis believed that literature exists above all for the joy of the reader and that books should be judged by the kind of reading they invite. He doubted the use of strictly evaluative criticism, especially its condemnations. Literary criticism is traditionally employed in judging books, and 'bad taste' is thought of as a taste for bad books. Professor Lewis's exp ...more
Hardcover, 152 pages
Published January 1st 1961 by Cambridge University Press
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"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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4.18  · 
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 ·  1,724 ratings  ·  242 reviews


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Manuel Antão
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 poe
...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 tha
...more
Jesse
Apr 21, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Brenden Link
Jan 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 wi
...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, i
...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

Ch. 1: The Few and the Many
literary criticism is about judging books, and any judgment about readers is something that follows the initial book-judgment; Lewis wants to reverse that and see what happens: judge books based on other
...more
John
Oct 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Stephen Hayes
Aug 21, 2019 added it
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
Jennifer
Jan 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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" lit
...more
Douglas Wilson
Mar 08, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-study
Great. And finished yet another time in November of 2017.
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.
Genni
Jan 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Amy Edwards
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
Bruce
Aug 14, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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” (primari ...more
Sharon Barrow Wilfong
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 Le
...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)
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 respons
...more
Sally Ewan
Jun 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
How do we consider literature and reading as an activity? I love Lewis's insistence that we must enter in before we can even voice objections or criticism. The ending is so lovely: "Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do." I was just thinking today about how you can identify a kindred spirit by someone who can answer with enthusiasm when you ask what they're reading. How can people NOT read?!? Lewis's book gives ...more
Amy
Sep 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What if, instead of judging people by the books they read, we judge the books by the way people read them?

One thing's for sure, I'm wrestling with things like writing Goodreads reviews after reading this book!

Lewis spends much of the book developing his definitions and parameters, and at the end describes the experiment. Like a lot of Lewis, lots of it went over my head, but that's not the book's fault, it's mine. I got enough out of it to know I want to re-read it, and not before too long. An
...more
Brent M.  Jones
Mar 01, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
A short answer to why read, according to C.S. Lewis, is that the process itself a hedonistic pleasure and that suggests that it is "good". "Good" for Lewis does not mean the subject matter is true or even logical but dependent on individual need and on approach. He suggests that we read differently when it is good, compared to when it is bad, at least as far as meeting the need for reading is concerned.

The book proposes that good reading compared to poor has to do with whether books are read in
...more
Cheri
Nov 07, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I realize this book was written 50 years ago, but I still find passages like these simply unforgivable:

"We have all known women who remembered a novel so dimly that they had to stand for half an hour in the library skimming through it before they were certain they had once read it. But the moment they became certain, they rejected it immediately. . . . Those who read great works, on the other hand, will read the same work ten, twenty or thirty times during the course o their life."

"And unhappily
...more
Brian
Feb 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realize 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, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others . . . Literary experience heals the wound, wit ...more
Carl
Sep 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Expressing his distaste for much of contemporary Literary Criticim, Lewis attempts an exploration of what reading is, what it does, and why literature should be given back to the readers.
Jim Puskas
Lewis sets out to prove that the world of readers is composed of two very separate and distinct populations that approach and experience the written word in entirely different ways. From the outset, I contend that his argument is problematic; not because it's wrong but because it's far too unbending in its attempt at demarcation. He has chosen to state his case in black and white, arbitrarily segregating all of humankind into two apparently unrelated populations who not only read different thing ...more
Belinda
Jun 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In a way, this is a criticism of literary (and art) criticism. Here, Lewis proposes that instead of judging a book by its content, we should judge a book by how it is read. He argues that the literary person will treat reading as an end, while the unliterary treats reading as a mean. In doing so, the literary receives instead of using the book and treat it as a work of art, rather than as a tool. Further on, he also makes an argument in support of fantasy elements in books and against the Vigila ...more
Abigail
Apr 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read the first half of this book for a Lewis class, and I decided to finish it a year later because I wanted to see how Lewis’s ideas compared to Jacobs’ in A Theology of Reading: The Hermeneutics of Love. I found that similar to Jacobs, Lewis focuses on the act of reading itself. Though most of his argument focuses on the act of reading as a way to judge the value of books, he also says that readers must approach literature with the intent of reading it as if it were good literature in order ...more
Emily
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although parts of the book felt slow, the epilogue made it all worth it, and I hope to return to this book someday. In the meantime, Lewis's words about literature will be kept in mind as I read, especially since I've been trying to make peace with the fact that I'll just never get to all the books and re-readings that I'd like to.
Courtney Johnston
I think this may be the first book of literary criticism I've read, and I only picked it up because I'm at the beginning of what feels like a bit of a C.S. Lewis binge (his biography 'Surprised by Joy' is by my elbow as I write this).

'An Experiment in Criticism' is just that - a lengthy essay in which Lewis tests out a different way of writing about books, and in particular, distinguishing good books from bad. It opens:

"In this essay. I propose to try an experiment. Literary criticism is traditi
...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
...more
“In great literature, I become a thousand different men but still remain myself.” 168 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.” 60 likes
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