I always thought it was a nice enough quote, but it didn't really make any sense to me. If you pressed me for an explanation, I think I would have said that books give us comfort when we're alone, or something nebulous like that.
Recently, I stumbled across another quote, this one by Kurt Vonnegut.
And suddenly I understood what C.S. Lewis meant about not being alone in a very real, visceral way.
Let me back up a bit. Recently, I've been visiting the confessional website Emotional Baggage Check. The concept behind this site is simple. You can "check baggage," and leave a message about something that's bothering you, whatever emotional baggage you might have. Or you can "carry baggage," and reply to someone else's baggage with an encouraging note and a link to a song. It's all anonymous, so no one knows anyone's names at all.
After reading message after message from people, I realized two things. One, people have an inherent need to confess--not just sins, but also sorrow. A confession is a release. But the second thing I learned was that most people feel they are alone, at least in some aspect of their lives. Many of the confessions explicitly state that--they feel they have no one else they can tell this secret, so they share it online. You can see a similar experience with the hugely popular Post Secret project.
It is important for people to know that they are not alone. That's what Lewis was saying, and Vonnegut. That's the point of Emotional Baggage and Post Secret. I inadvertently touched on it in my post about representation, but then I was thinking in terms of physical appearance. But it's just as important for people to know that they are not alone in the way they feel, the secrets they keep. The anxiety, the fear, the sorrow--you are not alone in it. If you learn that from a character in a book or a stranger online or a friend or a lover or a chance meeting on the train or a child--the thing to remember is that, simply, you are not alone.
And that one idea--you are not alone--is a deep truth, and realizing that truth can change everything.