A C. S. Lewis devotee knows that Lewis died the same day as President Kennedy. Though it's not mentioned in the jacket copy --- and the book includes no introduction --- that forty-year commemoration might have been the catalyst for this new compilation of 366 daily readings drawn from what the publisher calls his (capital-letter) Signature Classics: MERE CHRISTIANITY, THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, THE GREAT DIVORCE, THE PROBLEM OF PAIN, MIRACLES and A GRIEF OBSERVED, plus (apparently perceived in some other category) THE WEIGHT OF GLORY and THE ABOLITION OF MAN.
Drawing on this bank, this book provides food for thought more than for devotion. Readers looking for a devotional aid will need to make a conscious leap to apply the material to a personal line of prayer. And yet the presented theological, philosophical and sociological points, all focused by Lewis's Christian worldview, do serve to draw the reader to a keener awareness of God's presence, character and role; his being, creations and relationships.
The one-page selections have been deftly arranged by Patricia Klein, who in times past edited the annual Cahill calendars featuring quotable lines from Lewis and his Inkling cohorts. She has given each reading a clear but not clever title that orients readers going into a selection and grounds them coming out: "Love the Sinner . . .", "The Real Test", "Nice Is Not Enough", and "How Marriage Reconciles."
Her selections are well organized. Each stands on its own, but many, usually from one source, for four or five days at a time thematically build on one another. We spend a week in March, for example, noting the pitfalls of pride (from MERE CHRISTIANITY) before being introduced to "Humility 101" (from THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS).
Although the first SCREWTAPE entry (January 13) includes a paragraph that explains the first-person, demonist voice of this novel, an unwary reader unfamiliar with that book's tongue-in-cheek style can be confused later on. Trying to head off said confusion, Klein has added an italicized tag onto each SCREWTAPE reading (i.e., "Screwtape reveals a powerful tool for distraction").
I personally connected most with Lewis, the man, in his readings from A GRIEF OBSERVED, in which he mourns the death of his wife. But I also connected with Lewis's God in selections from MERE CHRISTIANITY and THE WEIGHT OF GLORY.
The volume is nicely packaged: a ribbon bound into the spine to mark your place, a table of contents on a part-title page at the beginning of each month, three book-end indices. When I turned a page, I first glanced to the bottom, anticipating an occasional date-specific Lewis-biographical event: a book publication, an academic achievement, a family birth or death --- November 22, 1963, "Lewis dies at 5:30 P.M. at The Kilns, one week short of his sixty-fifth birthday. . . "
Most readings are three, four, five times longer than the one I cite below (September 27), which is the shortest in the book. As compiled in A YEAR WITH . . . Lewis only occasionally quotes Scripture and never more aptly than here, speaking of the apostle Peter's seaside conversation with Jesus: "There are questions at issue between Christians to which I do not think we have been told the answer. There are some to which I may never know the answer: if I asked them, even in a better world, I might (for all I know) be answered as a far greater questioner was answered: 'What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.' "
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on October 21, 2003