For some, Chesterton is best taken in small bites and excerpts.
I suppose it will be considered heresy in some quarters, but I’ve never been what you would call a fan of the writing of G.K. Chesterton. Some people can’t get enough of GKC. I can.
Not that I haven’t tried to read him. Now and then, failing to acquire this particular taste and suspecting the fault lies with me, I’ve tackled still another book by Chesterton in hopes of falling in love with him as others have done.
In this way I’ve consumed quite a bit of Chestertonian prose. I’ve read The Everlasting Man and The Man Who Was Thursday, I’ve read the books about St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas, I’ve read a smattering of Father Brown stories and a few essays. And I’ve always had the same question at the end: What’s all the shouting about?
Chesterton the man, as he comes through in his writing, was obviously an admirable fellow—intelligent, good humored and generous even toward those with whom he disagreed. (Even in the “death of God” man, the raging German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, he sees something to speak well of, calling him “brave, proud and pathetic.”)
But Chesterton the writer I find, not to put too fine a point on it, more or less impenetrable. Amid the verbal cleverness and rhetorical flourishes it can be difficult—for me at least—to tell what he’s saying. “Give me a break, Mr. Chesterton,” I silently plead. “Keep it short and simple.” He seldom does.
That said, I’m delighted to report that I’ve finally read a Chesterton book that goes a long way toward making him accessible even to me. The title is ABCs of the Christian Life, and it’s a collection of excerpts, ranging from several paragraphs to several pages, drawn from Chesterton books and essays, and arranged alphabetically according to subject, from “Asceticism” to “Zion.”