Editor's note:

Dorothy Say­ers had the for­tu­nate habit of being inter­est­ing on just about every sub­ject she explored. How won­der­ful it is, then, that she under­took the already fas­ci­nat­ing sub­ject of read­ing books! 

Here’s a lit­tle excerpt from a length­i­er piece that she wrote in the mid­dle of World War II. Alan Jacobs, in his intro­duc­tion to this piece on his web­site, notes, Like many writ­ers of the time, Say­ers was con­cerned with what war might do to the intel­lec­tu­al and edu­ca­tion­al life of her coun­try, and there­fore con­clud­ed the book with a list of rec­om­mend­ed books and A Note on Cre­ative Read­ing.’ ” We high­ly rec­om­mend vis­it­ing his page to read the entire essay.

We’d espe­cial­ly like to draw your atten­tion to this pair of sen­tences: Dis­cuss the books you read. If your hus­band or your wife is bored with your opin­ions (they very often are), per­suade some friend to read the same books and talk them over. So true! Books, like most things in life, are bet­ter when they’re shared with friends.

One last thing: You may have heard that our 2017 – 18 Ren­o­varé Book Club recent­ly launched mem­ber sign-ups. If you’re look­ing for a friend with whom you can dis­cuss this sea­son’s books, we’re delight­ed to say that we have 68 region­al in-per­son groups across the globe — and grow­ing! Won’t you come on the jour­ney with us?

—Renovaré Team

Pray get rid of the idea that books are each a sep­a­rate thing, divid­ed from one anoth­er and from life. Read each in the light of all the oth­ers, espe­cial­ly in the light of books of anoth­er kind. Try and see — this is the most fas­ci­nat­ing exer­cise of all — whether a state­ment in one book may not be a state­ment of the same expe­ri­ence which anoth­er book express­es in quite dif­fer­ent terms. (I tried to make a syn­the­sis” of this kind about bio­log­i­cal man and the the­o­log­i­cal doc­trine of the Fall.) Try the exper­i­ment of putting a state­ment of one kind into the terms of anoth­er. Try espe­cial­ly putting state­ments made in old-fash­ioned lan­guage into mod­ern terms. You will often find that things you have tak­en all your life for incom­pre­hen­si­ble dog­mas turn out to be per­fect­ly intel­li­gi­ble obser­va­tions of truth. Take, for instance, those dark pro­nounce­ments in the Athanasian Creed that God is uncre­ate, incom­pre­hen­si­ble and eter­nal, and re-state them like this: The stan­dard of Absolute Val­ue is not lim­it­ed by mat­ter, not lim­it­ed by space, not lim­it­ed by time.” It may seem more accept­able that way….

If [an] author men­tions some oth­er book in terms which make it seem impor­tant, whether he approves or refutes it, don’t take his word for it: get the oth­er book and read it, and judge for your­self. If he refers to some­thing, or uses some word, which you don’t under­stand, get a dic­tio­nary or work of ref­er­ence and look it up. (Don’t write and ask the author to explain; he is not required to be an Ency­clo­pe­dia, and you will only give him a poor idea of your indus­try and intel­li­gence.) Espe­cial­ly, exam­ine the sources of what he writes; to read Mr. Somebody’s crit­i­cal val­u­a­tion of Milton’s prose or his exam­i­na­tion of the eco­nom­ic effects of the Peace-Treaty is quite val­ue­less if you have nev­er read any Mil­ton and do not know what the Peace-Treaty actu­al­ly said. Dis­cuss the books you read. If your hus­band or your wife is bored with your opin­ions (they very often are), per­suade some friend to read the same books and talk them over. By dis­cus­sion I mean dis­cus­sion: not just say­ing, Oh, I thought it was fright­ful­ly inter­est­ing, didn’t you?” Nor do I mean exchang­ing gos­sip about the author’s per­son­al­i­ty and pri­vate life and say­ing he must be a delight­ful (inter­est­ing, unpleas­ant, dan­ger­ous, irri­tat­ing, fas­ci­nat­ing, enter­tain­ing) per­son to know. (It is well to remem­ber that the best of a writer’s ener­gies goes into his writ­ing; he may not have much charm or virtue left over for pri­vate use. This does not inval­i­date his opin­ions; it mere­ly means that he is liable to be dis­ap­point­ing when encoun­tered in person.)

And do please realise that words are not just talky-talk” — they are real and vital; they can change the face of the world. They are a form of action — in the begin­ning was the Word by Whom all things were made”. Even the spate of futile words that pours out from the ephemer­al press and the com­mer­cial-fic­tion-mon­gers has a real and ter­ri­ble pow­er; it can become a dope as dan­ger­ous as drugs or drink; it can rot the mind, sap the rea­son, send the will to sleep; it can pull down empires and set the neck of the peo­ple under the heel of tyran­ny. For every idle word that ye speak ye shall ren­der account at the day of judg­ment.” I do not think that means that we shall have to pay a fine in a few mil­lion years’ time for every occa­sion on which we said dash it all” or indulged in a bit of harm­less friv­o­li­ty; but I do think it was meant as an urgent warn­ing against abus­ing or under-rat­ing the pow­er of words, and that the judg­ment is eter­nal — that is, it is here and now.

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Help­ing peo­ple like you abide with Jesus is why we post resources like this one. Always ad-free, Ren­o­varé is sup­port­ed by those who know soul-care is vital. Would you join us?

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Dorothy Say­er­s’s A Note on Cre­ative Read­ing” is in the pub­lic domain, and we grate­ful­ly acknowl­edge Alan Jacob­s’s excel­lent web­site, Snakes and Lad­ders, for draw­ing our atten­tion to this piece.