Tag Archives: C. S. Lewis

The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis

While C. S. Lewis is one of my all-time favorite authors, I’ve actually read very little of his work beyond the Chronicles of Narnia. I chose The Great Divorce because it was on the top left shelf of a bookcase in the basement.

When I started reading it my first thought was “The Good Place!” and sure enough at least one other person had that thought.

The book starts out in what we find out later is Hell. A group of denizens in Hell are boarding a bus to what we found out later is an outpost of Heaven. During the bus ride the narrator (Lewis himself, apparently) mostly listens to others talk, complain, or fight.

Once in the other place Lewis meets up with George McDonald who shows him around and when not eavesdropping on other conversations, tries to convince Lewis to follow him to Heaven.

It is a small book, but very heavy and it took me at least a week to read. I am glad I finally read something of Lewis’ that was not hiding religion inside fairy tales.

A list of books

I posted this on Facebook after being “tagged” by at least 3 people to post a list of ten books that somehow influenced me. Mali suggested I post this on my blog. As I said on Facebook, I think the main connecting theme of my list is that I have vivid memories of reading each of them — and images in my mind of the characters, settings and plots. I can even feel the emotion I felt when reading each of the books.

1. Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn — this book opened my eyes to the civil rights movement. Many of the characters still live with me to this day.

2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote — I read this in middle school. The images it evoked are still etched in my mind.

3. Dracula by Bram Stoker — the first non-young adult novel I ever read (in 7th grade). I adored stories about vampires and this was a classic.

4. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (she also wrote 101 Dalmatians) — “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink” is one of my favorite opening lines.

5. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis (Yes I know this is 7 books, but I consider it one large book) — I loved these books which I read in my teens, although my teacher read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to us in 6th grade. I’ve re-read several of the books since my first reading and shared them with my students and children.

6. Billy Brown the Babysitter by Tamara Kitt — the first book I ever read on my own. I remember suddenly being able to read and just read it.

7. My Bookhouse Books edited by Olive Beaupre Miller — another set of books, but each one was extremely important to me. These books made me a reader. I learned so much about literature from this set. The very best gift my parents ever gave me was this anthology set of 12 books (which seems to be available for purchase again! I wonder if it has been updated for political correctness.)

8. The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu — I received this book to review for a website before it was published. I didn’t have high hopes since it was written by a — then — unknown author, but absolutely loved it. I rarely re-read books, but have read this one a few times. I wrote the first Amazon review about this book. The next day I got to meet Mr. Mengestu. When I told him my name so he could sign my copy he recognized it and thanked me for the review.

9. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters — a well-written ghost story in which a house is a main character.

10. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson — I’d never read anything by Shirley Jackson except The Lottery but I liked the Gothic-like look of the cover of this book so bought it and read it. It is another book in which a house is a main character. Very well written and another book I re-read.

Where’s Your Mecca?

This morning as I gazed sleepily at my Moosewood Restaurant coffee cup I remembered fondly the time I dragged my husband, young children and mother to the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York. We were on our way to or back from Toronto and, since I’d been a loyal fan of their cookbooks for several years, I wanted to eat at the restaurant — something that had been on my wishlist for years — so the detour was made. The food was great and just being at the restaurant was special, so I think the detour was worth it.

The only other Meccas for me were C. S. Lewis’ home and Watership Down — both of which I visited in the late 1970s when Jeremy’s father drove Jeremy and me down the backbone of England to visit relatives near Dover. He asked if there were any [literary — he was a librarian] sites I wanted to see and of course I said Oxford and then added Watership Down since that was nearby. I believe we also visited Stonehenge on that trip. So, I suppose we hit three of my Meccas that year.

This post makes me want to revisit (in this blog) every place Jack Burgoyne took me. He was a huge influence on the adult I became. While I don’t regret my decisions about his son, I do regret that meant I lost Jack.

Do you have a Mecca? Where is it? Have you visited it? Did it live up to your expectations?

C. S. Lewis, Jack Kennedy and Me

47 years ago today the world lost two men who would posthumously have a great impact on me. One created a world in which I found great comfort as a teenager and young adult and the other, well I sort of made up a world for him.

I know that Jack Kennedy did a lot of good, had some wonderful ideas and was a much-loved President, but to me he was something other than that. I remember a coloring book I had when I was very young. It was of the First Family and had drawings of Caroline and her pony and Caroline and her younger brother, “John-John” in the White House gardens. The book probably also had drawings of Jack and Jacqueline Kennedy playing with their children. I remember feeling drawn to the coloring book and often made up stories that put myself inside the pages with the Kennedy children. I suppose the fact that JFK was the first president I remember had something to do with it, but he represented all leadership for me — so when the principal visited my kindergarten class on the first day of school, I thought he was our President. I thought of him as the father figure for the country — even the world.

Years later I learned that the Kennedys lost a baby girl the very day I was born and I often mused that perhaps God had one soul left to give a family on August 23, 1956 and somehow my parents won the baby girl lottery. I wondered what it would have been like growing up as Caroline and John-John’s older sister.

Then, of course, is the cafe table in Heaven where Uncle Don and Jack Kennedy sit — another source of comfort for me, especially this year now that my dad has joined the table.

C. S. Lewis, of course, created Narnia — a world on which I obsessed for several years. When I first discovered Narnia I wanted to meet or write a letter to C. S. Lewis to thank him and was devastated to find out he’d died years before I discovered his works.

So, as usual, I think about these two men on this day — the on anniversary of their deaths.

John, Clive and Aldous

Of course, being of a certain age and all, I vividly remember where I was when I heard the news of John F. Kennedy’s assassination 45 years ago today. I think I was in second grade and on the way out the side door of the school. The door patrol asked if I heard the news — that the president was dead. I asked if he meant the old president, but he said, no — the current one — Kennedy. I don’t remember much after that except that there was no good television on for a while.

I also remember vividly where I was when I discovered that Clive Staples Lewis was dead. It was several years after the fact. I’d been wondering if he was still living  — I’d just read The Chronicles of Narnia and asked a few people if they knew. Then one afternoon I was going through some almanacs that somehow found their way into our house (I think they came with a set of books my mom ordered). One was for the year 1963. I looked at November 22, probably to see what the almanac said about Kennedy’s assassination and was shocked to see that Lewis died the same day as JFK. I know exactly where I sat — on the floor of my attic bedroom in front of the built-in bookshelves.

As for Aldous Huxley — I only recently learned that he died the same day as Kennedy and Lewis, but figured I’d include him anyway even though I don’t think I’ve read anything by him nor did I know his first name was Aldous. I always thought it was Adolf.

So, of the three, the death that ultimately impacted me the most was Lewis’ — but many years after it happened. I was too young, at the time, to appreciate what a death of a president meant. Learning that Lewis was gone when I’d only just discovered his works was a small tragedy in my life. I’d never get the chance to tell him how much his books meant to me.

So perhaps that was why I insisted, this summer, that we visit the city of his birth, drive past the house in which he lived as a child and touch the statue created in his honor.