Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Meet My Beloved GKC

G.K. Chesterton—Manalive!

"If there were no God, there would be no atheists."
“You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion."
“The decay of society is praised by artists as the decay of a corpse is praised by worms."

Quotes like these gave me an intellectual itch to read more from the wit who penned them. Let me tell you the story of how I so happily came to scratch that itch and, in the process, added another character to the pantheon of dead folks I’ve come to think of as friends and acquaintances.

Brian, the owner of Adams Avenue Books, seemed as excited as a kid hearing the ice cream truck when I told him I had yet to read any G.K. Chesterton and asked, “could you recommend which book I should try first?” As he took me upstairs he began to go on and on about what a wonderful and witty writer Chesterton was and even telling me stories from Chesterton’s life as if he were some beloved but eccentric relative. Beaming at me like a grandma offering her grandson freshly baked cookies, Brian held up two rather thick books and suggested, “Give Heretics a try—it’s a real hoot!” Now I’m beginning to wonder if the book business has perhaps pushed Brian over the edge and whether I really want to tackle Chesterton after all. Yet my curiosity got the better of me and I left the bookshop with both Heresy and Orthodoxy—along with some of Chesterton’s Father Brown stories. As I crossed the store’s threshold and emerged onto a sun-splashed Adams Avenue, I felt as if I had, in some fashion, just made Brian’s day. I also had a vague suspicion that I’d just taken my first steps into some quirky Chestertonian brotherhood. I had.

Chesterton has changed the way I look at life, God and myself. He’s taught—no, he’s re-taught me—to view life and creation with proper childlike wonder. He did this by introducing me to the wonderful Mr. Innocent Smith. You can meet him too. He resides between the covers of the delightful little novel, Manalive. In Heresy and Orthodoxy Chesterton showed me the connection theology has to philosophy and, indeed everything in life. This too has changed the way I see the world. Regarding the way I look at myself, Chesterton has taught me to take myself—and life--less seriously. He has also taught me to take them both more seriously. If you think what I’ve just said is some sort of strange paradox which doesn’t seem to make much sense, you’d be half right. It is a strange paradox; and paradox was Chesterton’s favorite tool for opening his reader’s mind to those truths which timid conventional thinking has kept them from seeing. As Chesterton himself said so well, “He is a very shallow critic who cannot see an eternal rebel in the heart of a conservative."

Speaking of eternal rebels, perhaps it was my ever-active inner rebel who inspired me to begin the Chesterton Cigar Club a few years back. This was right when the anti-smoking puritans were hiking tobacco taxes and driving smokers from the very last nooks and crannies of the workplace. I only mention the the illustrious CCC with the happy intention of spreading its fame and perhaps, like a good fisher-of-men, enticing some fellow smoker to join us for our monthly meetings.


  1. “He is a very shallow critic who cannot see an eternal rebel in the heart of a conservative."

    This is a great line referencing the poetry of Tennyson from Chesterton's work "Varied Types". The crux of his argument follows just below that line and says,

    Any poetaster can describe a thunderstorm; it requires a poet to describe the ancient and quiet sky.

    That's why I love Wordsworth also. When you can read Psalm 19 and see the smallest detail of what God has created and communicate it - that's "revolutionary".

  2. Wes,
    I can see already, from your comments, that I am going to learn a very great deal from the literature-lovers and thoughtful readers like you who visit the blog. Thanks!