C.S. Lewis once wrote an essay entitled On the Reading of Old Books, in which he argued, if memory serves, that there are far too many books published each year for anybody to even contemplate reading them, so a pretty good way of thinning them out is to pick ones that have stood the test of time.
Since coming across this in my youth, I’ve tried, very roughly, to read one book published before my lifetime for every one I read that was written during my lifetime. This still leaves me heavily biased towards the present, of course, but it does go some way towards correcting my natural reading tendencies. I guess we’ve probably reached the time, for people of my age or younger, when it would be a good rule to apply to movies as well.
Lewis could have added another benefit of old books: that they’re generally out of copyright and so freely available on places like Project Gutenberg, so can be read on your iPhone using Stanza. It’s funny that he neglected to mention that.
Take Jerome K. Jerome, for example. Everyone knows Three Men in a Boat. But I also rather like his Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow and was browsing it over a decidedly idle breakfast this morning. What a great blogger he would have been! Here’s an extract, to take you for a moment back to 1886: