For a country with declining book sales and newspaper circulation, America sure is interested in what Sarah Palin reads. This fascination dates back to her disastrous 2008 interview with Katie Couric, where it seemed like the answer was that she didn't read anything. And while the former Alaska governor been more aggressive since then in defining her reading habits, Palin's detractors and boosters remain convinced she's never made it out of the Young Adult section at the Wasilla Books-A-Million.
Take the reaction to Palin's revelation during a recent interview with Barbara Walters that she reads C.S. Lewis when she needs "divine inspiration." View cohost Joy Behar deemed Lewis's work "children's books." MSNBC commentator Richard Wolffe also wondered why Palin would seek inspiration in a "series of kids books." Explained Wolffe: "I'm not putting [Lewis] down. But you know, divine inspiration? There are things she could've said to divine inspiration. Choosing C.S. Lewis is an interesting one."
Is it? In addition to writing the Narnia series, Lewis authored dozens of works on the subject of Christian theology and public morality. But even Palin's defenders think the former Alaska governor is reading about Aslan the Lion instead of, say, Lewis's internal struggle after his wife's death. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed Tuesday, Walden Media president Michael Flaherty defended Palin for finding truth and beauty in a book about a bunch of lonely British children who get lost in a walk-in closet:
For Lewis, one of the best ways to know a person was to know what they read. He was convinced that books defined us and shaped our character. He realized that books did more than prepare people for interesting conversations with journalists--they prepare us to respond to the crises we encounter in our own lives. ... [Lewis] begins "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" with one of the most memorable lines in the series: 'There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.'...Eustace didn't have time for the types of stories that Lewis wrote and thought were important--stories about 'brave knights and heroic courage.' ... Ms. Behar's dismissal of children's books as less than important makes her a modern-day Eustace, the type of bully who mocks readers of fairy tales as simpletons. Lewis thought quite the opposite. He thought that fairy tales were the best way to convey truth for children and adults alike...Nowhere is this more poignantly expressed than in his dedication to Lucy Barfield in "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe." 'You are already too old for fairy tales,' he wrote to the young Lucy, 'but some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again." Hopefully that day will come soon for Ms. Behar as well.
But again: why the assumption that Palin was talking about the Narnia books? Is it possible Palin's defenders and detractors are just as confused about literature as Palin is often supposed to be?