Well, this is officially the first book the I'm supposed to read for the New Year: it's the first book on my Bookclub's list, and it proved to be an excellent choice. (Thanks, Sky!)
I've read C.S. Lewis in the past, but this is by far the most intimate of his writings that I've encountered. There is are plenty of hints of his powerful logic working through it, with moments that get a little too arcane for my ability to follow; but all in all, this is a pretty simple (not easy) read with a few philosophical signposts along the way. Lewis's purpose in this book is essentially to show the reader, first, how he became an atheist and, second, how he converted to Christianity. The story meanders around and gives the impression--intentionally, I'm sure--of being something like the over-decorated Edwardian rooms that he describes having grown up in. The book also feels strangely like the kind of thing you need to read curled up in a large stuffed chair, in front of a fire, and drinking a cup of tea. It offers that cozy sensation that hearkens back to late Victorian writing. The result is a story that keeps you engaged from start to finish, even though you know you are reading one man's often winding memories of his early life. Were it not C.S. Lewis, I might complain. But he has a knack for keeping the reader turning the page.
There's no point in summarizing this book. To some extent, it defies simple summary; to another extent, it's just an autobiography and thus follows the rules of the genre. What makes it so delightful is the anecdotes that Lewis tells along the way. I'm rather convinced now that my father-in-law is of the same breed as Mr. Lewis Senior. There were so many similarities, and while Lewis's fond but resigned comments about his father didn't entirely reconcile me to my own father-in-law's foibles, they certainly showed me something important: no matter how harsh it may sound, some people don't really change, and they might be put on this earth largely for the purpose of keeping those closest to them humble. And that's a good thing, so I suppose difficult people are an inevitability of life.
Lewis litters his life story with some absolutely charming moments of description. I think it has something to do with his ability to word his thoughts just right. For instance, I loved his short mention of his Irish terrier Tim, especially his comment: "He never exactly obeyed you; he sometimes agreed with you." (Perhaps I should name my computer Tim. Except that's my dad's name...) Or his thoughts on how he became a believer in Christ: "I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did." (I heard somewhere else that his companion on this ride was none other than my hero Tolkien.) The utter simplicity of this comment belies his struggle toward Christ, but also exemplifies his style of writing. Lewis has that purely British capacity for perfect subtlety, and this is his method throughout the book.
Of course and without question, I recommend this book. At the same time, I'm not sure I'd recommend it to someone who has never read any of Lewis's other works or who isn't really interested in exploring Lewis's conversion. The writing is lovely, but it's a very specific topic and might feel out of context for some readers. Then again, for those who might have been put off by Lewis's more erudite writings, this will come as a nice change. Either way, give it a chance, because it really is wonderful.