My Review of Surprised By Laughter by Terry Lindvall

I was sent this book by Book Sneeze, as always I am not required to give a positive review but an honest one. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Almost a year ago, I attended a lecture given by Terry Lindvall at the C.S. Lewis Society in New York City. I found the lecture to be pretty interesting, was excited about the book until I saw that it was more than 450 pages. Umm … I’ll wait for the movie. Then it became available through BookSneeze and thought I’d sign up.

Surprised by Laughter is a legit read.  For me it wasn’t an everyday book but a one I enjoyed picking up every so often.

A couple things. This book is written with a dude with a PhD. Just a head’s up – PhD humor is different than regular people humor. This is not to say that people with such degrees aren’t funny – some of them really are. But I think it’s safe to say that Terry’s idea of humor is different then the writers of SNL. So who is Terry Lindvall? He is the CS Lewis Professor of Communication and Christian Thought at Virginia Wesleyan College. He is clearly more than qualified and I found his personality to be relatable, it’s no surprise that he would write a book like this.

Two, this book is not for the casual CS Lewis fan. It’s more than 450 pages! It’s not the next step after reading Mere Christianity. Further, if you are not familiar with Lewis’ personality, sarcasm and wit, this might not be that interesting to you.

What I Liked:
– Because I heard the lecture first, I had an appropriate expectation. So it was easy for me to appreciate (this is why some authors are eager to do book tours right?).
– The writing is fantastic. You would expect that but it better be good if you expect people to make it to the end.
– The research is impressive. But it’s not just library research, so much of Terry’s content is found in the stories that are being told by people who knew Lewis and now the children of people who loved him.
– My favorite aspect of the book is that it gives you such a personal perspective of Jack (Lewis’ nickname). It’s not just analyzing how he uses humor, nor is it strictly about comedic episodes of his life, it’s a much broader take on Lewis’ personality and how he saw the world – this included much humor.
– The inclusion of Jack’s friends. Laughter is best experienced with others and it was great to get that.

What I Wasn’t Sure About:
– More than 450 pages! Though well-written, though well-researched, it was hard to be motivated to read it for what it was. But to be fair, just about everything written about Lewis is too long, so I guess this fits the genre :)

Who I Think the Book Is For
This book is really for CS Lewis fans who have to buy every book with his name on it. But the real benefit of the book is that you really get an incredible look in Lewis’ life and so even if you don’t read all the way to the end, you’ll enjoy what you have read. You probably won’t be funnier but you’ll get to see more of Lewis’ personal life (and you may have a a couple more interesting things to say should you stop by the C.S. Lewis Society in New York City).


  1. I’m way behind on my reading, so I just saw this review. I have a signed copy of Surprised by Laughter that I’ve been meaning to read since it was published . . . and since I was working for Terry Lindvall as a graduate assistant. :) (He was president of Regent at the time.) As I recall, his humor was not that far off from that of SNL writers . . . he was a big Wittenburg Door fan and kept everyone in the office laughing.

    I really need to move this book up on my “to-read” list.

  2. I used to read Wittenburg Door – need to get back on that. I thought his lecture was funny, not sure the humor worked the same way in the text. That’s cool that you used to be his grad assistant. Loved the story on his site – clearly he’s a good sport nad good guy. Thanks for reading Shannon, hope all is well.

  3. Again, sorry for my delayed reading / responding. All is well here — thanks — but I should clarify. I wasn’t exactly Terry Lindvall’s personal grad assistant. I worked in the dean’s office, in a suite he shared with the dean. The two of them were working on a book together and put me to work researching for them. (He also sent me across campus to give Philip Yancey a signed copy of Surprised by Laughter the day after Yancey spoke on campus, which was a pretty cool errand for me. :) ) So it’s not like I had a close relationship with him; I didn’t mean to exaggerate.

  4. I read this book from cover to cover, then handed over to a friend who is also a fan of C. S. Lewis as a departure gift. I’ve only read Mere Christianity and Narnia series previously, heard a lot of quotations by him and just loved his writing style immensely. It was quite difficult to come through certain passages in this book, especially when my eyes usually grew weary in the last hour of the day, but it was surely a delight and rare indulgence to have a reading with such warmth, humor, kindness, tolerance and less-than-dead-seriousness against the gray skyline of Beijing, China at the end of the day. Coming to the US recently, I saw how abundantly everything is made here, easy access to a rich pool of resources as such. However, those days when every bit of the limited material available is savored and re-used by many became sweeter and sweeter. It is indeed what the saint said, “There is a time for everything.”

  5. Mark Rusnak says:

    I found this book (Surprised by Laughter) very ORIGINAL, kind of like meeting someone for the first time and thinking “wow, this guy is really impressive and why is he talking to little old me?” I found this book at the Hennepin County library in Edina, MN and checked it out, but have only made it through the first 100 or so pages. It has really helped me in my “grace restoration” after years of a bitter, and difficult life. It is a colorful book about a colorful and thoughtful figure (Lewis) who must have had (I imagine) a hearty, booming laughter. I so appreciate Lewis – he was a man who, despite his vast intellect and scholarship not only comes down to the simple man’s level, but even more importantly seamlessly brings you up to his. And this book does a lot to help us understand the complexities and creativity of our beloved “Jack”. I find in my later years, that even an old sinner can still be “surprised by laughter” (and joy).

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