sea lovers

Reading Out of Order with Sea Lovers & C.S. Lewis

sea loversC. S. Lewis and His Circle by Roger White
Published by Oxford University Press on June 11th 2015
Source: Publisher
Pages: 320
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Sea Lovers by Valerie Martin
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on August 18th 2015
Source: Publisher
Pages: 336
Buy from IndieBound


I’ve always been someone who opens a book to page one and reads straight through to the end, which…seems like the logical way to do things. But when it comes to collections of essays and short stories, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it may not always be the best way. I’ve been resistant to the idea of jumping around, but gave it a shot with two recent reads and wound up pleasantly surprised.

Though my background knowledge of C.S. Lewis extended just past my reading of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I was drawn to C.S. Lewis & His Circle, which seemed to condense the man’s life and ideas in a manageable volume. Because my background on Lewis was so limited, I skipped the essays at the beginning of the book and went straight to the memoirs, which give an overview based on letters, diaries, writing from Lewis’s family and other members of The Inklings. With that foundation, I then went back to the essays, to read about the relationship between philosophy and theology on various topics, as well as a few literature highlights. Though they were quite dense for a single read, I think the essays will be good to come back to and would be perfect for someone already more familiar with Lewis and The Inklings.

When I opened Sea Lovers, there was an introduction from Valerie Martin, which explained that the collection’s stories were organized chronologically and gathered into sections based on themes she found in the way her writing evolved over time. Though I still wanted to see that distinct change in her writing, I thought it might be interesting to see it a little more quickly. So, instead of reading Sea Lovers straight through, I read one story from each section in order. I think this ended up being wise, as the stories in the beginning were well written, but not quite as strange or quirky as I tend to enjoy. Later, the writing blossomed and more odd elements were added, so I was glad to see that promise early on.


Do you ever read essay or short story collections out of order? Do you think it has made for more enjoyable reading experiences?

  • I wonder what would have happened if you’d read The Shore in chronological order…might be interesting for a re-read!

  • Gina

    I have usually read short stories in order even knowing I didn’t, or don’t, have to. I’m sure most I read, I don’t have to follow. Will find one to try this with. Just picked up Barbara the Slut, and can’t wait!

  • Wesley

    Jeez Shannon. I already have 5 CS Lewis books on my TBR and now I’ve got another to add…
    I have to say, I have a hard time jumping around in books, even though there are books like these that lend themselves to jumping.

  • I love, love, love C.S. Lewis! I think the only collection of short stories that I’ve ever read out of order was one by David Sedaris; I’m so boring – ha!

  • I’m with you on your original tendency to read from start to finish, even with essay collections. I guess I can’t shake the nagging feeling that if they put the pieces in this specific order, it’s probably for a reason!

    I think it’s awesome that you shook things up with these two reads, and it sounds like you were well-served in both cases. I really want to learn more about C.S. Lewis—the library copy of Mere Christianity I have has a pretty good introduction from someone who was close to the family.

    • That’s what I’ve always though, too, that they were that way for a reason…but I think maybe they can be switched up depending on the reader.

  • I usually set out with the intention to read in the published order, but sometimes I end up skipping a piece I’m not in the mood for, and coming back to it later … or reading the ones that excite me most first. Sometimes the order is important, like in a collection of linked stories that refer back to one another. But sometimes, even though one can recognize and appreciate the organizational structure that’s been chosen by author or editor, it doesn’t matter so much, and there are many different possible ways to experience the text. I think the CS Lewis collection is a prime example of this — any order that you enjoy is fine.

  • I usually read them in order if they are linked, otherwise I skip around also.

  • I think the only “out of order” reading I’ve ever done is to read the introduction to a classic AFTER reading the story. The discussion of a work’s themes usually resonates more with me after I’ve read the book and know what the essay is referencing. (I also like to avoid spoilers as much as possible.)

    I’ve never read short stories or essays out of order, but mainly just because I’ve never had a reason to. Your reasons for approaching these two books differently make total sense!

  • CS Lewis and his Circle sounds intriguing. I dont know much about the Inklings but I need to find out more. I’ve been interested in CS Lewis since reading A Grief Observed and seeing the movie Shadowlands long ago. Did you see that?

  • I’m not sure I could bring myself to read a book out of order, even if it was a collection of separate works! It sounds like it was a good choice for you with these books though :)