Big Ideas are Best in Small Doses {My November column @TheCatholicPost}

Following is my column that appears in this weekend’s print edition of The Catholic Post.

Let’s just be honest here.

I’m better at GK Chesterton in (very) small doses.

First, I love the great quotes characteristic of this prolific Catholic convert and early 20th century English writer:

“The reason angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly.”

“Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

“A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

I also enjoy some of Chesterton’s fiction, setting aside his “metaphysical thriller” The Man Who Was Thursday. That was tough to get through, but I have read it twice. I just couldn’t love it.

As an aside, the recent BBC series (available on Netflix) based on the Father Brown stories is an extremely enjoyable show and in many ways captures the spirit, if not the letter, of Father Brown. The series is set in post-World War II, which makes it truly a loose adaptation, since Chesterton died in 1936.

But when I’ve tried to read one of Chesterton’s book-length non-fiction works, I get seriously bogged down in the sheer volume of thought. His writing meanders, and my mind wanders. I confess freely that I’ve never made it all the way through, with close attention, Orthodoxy, or indeed any book-length Chesterton work of non-fiction.

Surely I’m not the only one?

That’s why I love ABCs of the Christian Life: The Ultimate Anthology of the Prince of Paradox. It’s just as it sounds—short excerpts from G.K. Chesterton’s writings, each corresponding to a letter of the alphabet.

This well-planned book begins with a forward by the noted apologist and Boston College professor Peter Kreeft, who explains why Chesterton’s writing has stood the test of time, and what he has to say to us today.

Then, for each letter of the alphabet, there is a different topic, such as St. Francis for F; Insanity for I; Religions Compared for R; and Yes for Y. Each is a several-page, unabridged excerpt from one of Chesterton’s essays or books. It’s more meaty than a quote, yet not as overwhelming as a full-length book. Interested readers can see in the afterward where the excerpt first appeared, whether in his classic The Everlasting Man or one of his other books or writings.

Actually, this is actually the way Chesterton is meant to be read. He was chiefly an essayist and critic who published essays, reviews, and criticism in magazines throughout his career. That’s how he was known most during his lifetime, and it is in these shorter essays that he shines.

Reading ABCs of the Christian Life is a refreshing introduction or re-introduction to this perceptive writer and his enduring insights about human nature and living as a Christian in modern times.

You might also be interested in:

For someone who doesn’t “love” Chesterton in large doses, I have reviewed a lot books related to him:

*Here’s my review of Nancy Carpentier Brown’s The Woman Who was Chesterton, her sweeping biography of Chesterton’s wife.

*Here’s my review of The Chestertons and the Golden Key, a mystery imagined based on real-life friends of the Chestertons.

What are your favorite Chesterton or Chesterton-inspired works?

One thought on “Big Ideas are Best in Small Doses {My November column @TheCatholicPost}”

  1. While I didn’t have your struggle with Orthodoxy, I have had many to whom I have recommended it inform me that they had a hard time getting through it as well as his other non-fiction.

    Might I suggest a rather radical thing to do? Chesterton wrote many essays, as you state here, and they are weekly columns that can be found in his collection works. Reading enough of these (100 or so), from The Daily News or The Illustrated London News, and choosing different publishing years in your selection can give you enough of Chesterton’s rhetoric and ways of thinking to infuse your mind into his mode, so to speak. It also will add to the affection for him and his personality that keeps growing within the reader as they share these weekly moments with GKC.

    I have had a few people tell me that reading a number of these weeklies made their re-reading attempts at larger works easier to get through.

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