Thoughts on Jack's Life by Douglas Gresham

My day-off reading this week was Douglas Gresham's new biography of C. S. Lewis, called Jack's Life. Gresham is the son of Jay Davidman Gresham who became the wife of C. S. Lewis. After Joy died, Lewis was Gresham's step-father. So Gresham's book is written very much from an insider's perspective - it's a biography from one who knew him well as a man, not just as an author and is therefore more personal and less critical (in the techincal sense of the word) than the other biographies written about Lewis.

This is what I liked. Gresham succeeds in bringing Lewis to life by sharing much about Jack the man - interesting anecdotes and an even-handed unfolding of Lewis's entire life. Very little is written about the books. The focus is on Lewis as a person: his joys and sorrows, his walk with God, his love for people, the daily routines of his life. And this alone makes the book worth the while for Lewis fans. This is the fourth biography of Lewis that I've read (including the autobiography of sorts, Lewis's Surprised by Joy) and it is unique among the four.

But there were also things I didn't like. For one thing, it is not a very well written book. It is overly repetitious with events and even comments about events being repeated. It kind of reminds me of how you sometimes hear relatives tell the same stories to you over the holidays that they have told every year because they forgot that they told you before. On top of that, the punctuation is awful. Did this book have an editor? Another thing that I found annoying was Gresham's habit of moralizing and pontificating after describing some event from Jack's life. I thought it made the book feel like it was written for children, where the author is always explaining and often making judgment calls (whether good or bad) on his own narrative. The only time I appreciated the explanations were when they helped me understand something about British culture that I would not have otherwise known. I may sound overly picky and critical, but that's a reader's (not to mention a blogger's) privilege!

So, should you read Jack's Life? Well, not if it's the only biography on Lewis you plan on reading. If you were only going to read one, you would do much better to read George Sayer's Jack: A Life of C. S. Lewis. But if you want a more personal look at Lewis's life from someone who knew him well and greatly admired him, read Gresham.

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