Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Introduce Yourself to G.K. Chesterton
This is another post in The Bookish Mum series, where we talk about making time for reading and books as moms. Why reading is important, how to make time to read, and challenging yourself through reading are all topics touched on so far, make sure to check them all out!
As the biggest self-proclaimed G.K. Chesterton fangirl, I often get asked about what one should start reading if interested in Chesterton. You've seen his great quotes everywhere, but reading his writings in their entirety can be so much more rewarding, so I thought I'd hand out my professional advice as to what to read and a little bit of information about the great writer who may also become a saint!
Who Was G.K. Chesterton?
Born in 1874, Chesterton was raised in a loving, but not especially religious family. By the time Gilbert was old enough to attend art school he had dabbled in occultism and seemed to be firmly agnostic. While at art school however, he became seriously depressed which spurred a spiritual conversion and a firm belief in God's existence, he returned to the Anglican Church where he was baptized. He married his wife Frances in 1901, she would always be his constant support and anchor throughout his hectic life and prolific career, but they would never have children.
He began writing articles for newspapers and would go on to write novels, poetry, plays, literary biographies, the famous Father Brown detective stories and innumerable essays. He wrote his apologetics classic Orthodoxy before coming into full communion with the Catholic Church in 1922. He wrote on every conceivable subject from war to cheese, the Catholic faith to economic theory. His wit and ability to convey common sense to an increasingly chaotic society makes his writing still relevant today. His life is now being more closely examined as there is now an investigation into his personal holiness which is the beginning of the official process of becoming a canonized saint in the Catholic Church.
What G.K. Chesterton Wrote
There's really no genre or topic that Chesterton didn't write or write about. His incredible talent lent itself to plays, poetry, detective stories, novels of faith, country, and spies, biographies of saints and novelists, apologetics classics, and books of essays commenting on America, the Church, art, politics, and the economic theory he supported; distributism.
Regardless of the genre, Chesterton always stood for the truth, and had a gift for imparting the truth with confidence, logic, and wit that always made the reader think. He stood up for natural law, biblical principles, and the teachings of the Church in the face of many modern problems, or heresies as he saw them. In his fiction, he brought these ideals and philosophies to life in a diverse array of characters and often amusing stories. His Father Brown detective stories are what people usually recognize him for, and they are wonderful examples of his ability to weave in his impeccable understanding of human nature and it's need for truth.
What to Begin With
The question when faced with Chesterton's epic bibliography is where to start? I think after reading him for more than ten years I'd recommend a few titles depending on what genre you'd feel most comfortable with. For easier essays with a wide variety of topics Tremendous Trifles is a treat. I'd also heartily recommend his Autobiography, especially if you are looking for a conversion story. I've recently read his biography on St. Francis of Assisi which isn't so much a detailed biography of events but a inspiring foray into Franciscan thinking and a great starter if you're looking for Chesterton's writing on Catholicism. If you'd like to start with his fiction I'd recommend his Father Brown stories to begin with, then dive into his masterpiece; The Man Who Was Thursday.
As another tip, you might want to take Chesterton in small doses. His was a towering intellect and I still catch myself rereading many passages I've read before simply because his writing can be mind blowing; both philosophically and in it's technical prose. But don't take that to mean he is intimidating. He is imminently humble in his writing, and there is something for you in his writings!
If you're looking to understand more of Chesterton's thinking in a more general, cohesive way there's no better place than to begin with Dale Ahlquist's books on Chesterton. They are a great introduction into Chesterton's way of thinking and writing that can really help us get the perspective we need for what Chesterton was writing about specifically.
I've also subscribed to Gilbert, the magazine of the American Chesterton Society for years now and I love how it brings together contemporary views with Chesterton's writings in a good mix of well written articles, stories, and book/tv/movie reviews. It's a great way to get to know Chesterton in a more casual, easy way that arrives conveniently every few months!
One More Profession of Fangirl Love
This has been quite possibly the shortest diversion upon the great subject of all that is Chesterton, but I hope it's helped you recognize his name and spark your curiosity to read more. I have a deep love for Chesterton and his writings; for his ability to communicate so emphatically and clearly the beliefs we hold dear, for the love of life he had bursting forth from his every cell, for his ability to show us the beauty, mystery, and wonder in the everyday. There is so much wisdom, truth, and goodness in his writings that I think there really is something for everyone, so if you've been curious about Chesterton give him a try because I think he'll make your life better.
I've written a little about Chesterton's ideas in the past, here's some posts:
Chesterton on Parents and Education
Chesterton on a Child's Imagination
Chesterton and How to Celebrate Christmas
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