Jonal entry 1030 | December 12 2007
Though I won a prize for an essay I wrote in third grade and was elected "president of Mexico" for a speech I wrote in sixth, I think my interest in and predisposition toward writing was formed before either of those early experiences. My first exposure to "writing" as something normal people can do was in the reading of letters my brother Tom wrote home from his time in the Navy just after World War Two. Mom treasured those letters (Tom must have been only 17 and 18 at the time, as he was out of the Navy and got married before he turned 20) and Mom read them aloud to the rest of the family. Tom moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, just after getting married, and never lived anywhere close to Western Pennsylvania for the rest of his life. Though of course they visited back and forth once a year or so, the letters also continued until Mom could not write hers or even read his.
My mother and her sister, Aunt Buelah, also corresponded, between Mom and Dad's farm near Belsano to Buelah's family's farm near Concord, Ohio. And when I moved away from home never to live again in Pennsylvania, Mom and I exchanged letters throughout most of the rest of her life, though at times we also exchanged tape cassettes of "spoken letters" and I also sent videotapes of my family's doings to the folks' place, then, outside Altoona. All of these letters were literate and even reflected personal styles on the part of their writers. And this fact, as much as anything in my life, I think, formed my early efforts at writing and has stood me in good stead ever since.
And as I read through the letters of C.S. Lewis to his father Albert, his brother Warnie, his best friend Arthur, and many assorted acquaintances, I am constantly impressed by how this kind of writing affected and shaped his "professional" writing and how it is often as "readable," engaging, and stuffed full of meaning, depth, and beauty as his novels, essays, and works of literary scholarship. I've often counseled those of my writing students who don't know where to begin to imagine themselves writing a letter to whatever reader their work suits the most. And of course most keepers of diaries address their "diary" as though it is a person ("Dear Diary"), in order to keep on the train of thought and respect the limitations of the day's reconstructions.
I'm now about halfway through the three 1000-page volumes of Lewis's collected letters. And though starting such a big undertaking was daunting when I began in late August, it keeps getting better. The more I read, the more I feel I'm getting to know Jack Lewis. Every chance I get to sit long enough to read one of his letters is like spending time with someone worth being around. And of course this is why I'm doing it...to get to know him better.
We read to know we are not alone.
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