Monday, July 19, 2010

Book Review - Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

Booklogged introduced me to G. K. Chesterton while she was reading a Dean Koontz novel.  Dean has become a fan of Chesterton and many of his novels contain some pretty cool G. K. quotes.  Sweetie told me that he was C. S. Lewis' spiritual father and that he was a funny, frumpy philosopher.  Sounded good to me.

So, I thought I'd be smart and sophisticated and read his book, Orthodoxy.  Way over my head.  There were some fun stories, great quotes and good ideas and then the introduction by Philip Yancey ended and the book began.

I think I'd have to have a Master's Degree in philosophy to even begin to understand where Chesterton was going with half of this stuff.  Mostly I don't have a frame of reference for his examples, so I'd have to have a degree in late 19th Century England as well.  When I occasionally thought I actually understood what he was getting at I came down on his side only about half the time.  That's better than H. G. Wells and T. S. Elliot who I hardly ever agree with.  But not like C. S. Lewis, who I can actually understand and would give about 80% ratification.  What's up with all the initials?  Anyway, half way, I'm pulling the Book Darts and book mark and taking my brain some where else, thanks.

I suggest that if you want to understand G. K. Chesterton, read Philip Yancey.  He seems to understand him far better than Chesterton understands himself.  Chesterton wrote some novels as well.  I'll probably take a look at one of them and give him another chance.  I've always felt that novelists were better observers of the human condition than scholars are so maybe that'll work.

I will end on a positive note by including a cute little Chesterton poem.

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands,
And the great world around me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?

If Chesterton is anything he is grateful.

This book gets two stars.

2 comments:

Thomas said...

You're probably right in saying that it's way over your head; I think that experience is pretty common among those reading Chesterton for the first time. The problem isn't that his ideas are convoluted or that he understands only vaguely what he is trying to say; in fact, if there is a problem, it is quite the opposite one. The problem is that he is an extremely clear thinker and assumes (wrongly, in my case) that we are too, and thus feels no need to hold our hand from point A to point Z, explaining each step along the way. When Lewis has an especially lucid thought to share with his readers, he knows what a rare and startling thing that will seem to most of us, and takes pains to bear us through gently. Chesterton simply takes it for granted that we also see the logical progression from one (seemingly unrelated) idea to another, and moves on with nary a comment on what lay in between. It makes for difficult reading, and his writing style doesn't exactly make it any easier.

As to the frequent references to individuals, events and ideas that we are not likely to recognize without our constant companion wikipedia, I cannot but agree with you. The curse of the newspaperman, I suppose; no thought at all given to making sure his writings are accessible to future generations. Might I recommend the annotated addition?

Finally, don't feel frustrated that you only made it halfway through. Multiple false starts are a part of my first experience with Orthodoxy, and of many others' experiences as well. I think I finally read it through the third time that I picked it up, a full year and a half after it was originally given to me. Read some other books, 'take your brain elsewhere', but then come back and look at it with a fresh set of eyes; you might be surprised by what you see.

-TJ Webb

Candleman said...

Thomas, thank you so much for the sympathy and encouragement. I plan to take your advice. Won't it be embarrassing when I do and then conclude to give him the stars he deserves.

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