This post contains brief reactions to books that I have read. These reactions are not my usual thorough Book Write-Ups, and it has been a while since I read some of the books. But I am writing about them here to make a record of what I got out of them.
A. Heretics, by G.K. Chesterton.
I tried reading Chesterton’s Father Brown mystery series and there was not a whole lot of chemistry, so I switched to reading his book, Heretics. It has been a while (as in months) since I read this book, and I do not remember a lot of Chesterton’s arguments against the “heretics.” Among the people whom he critically engages are Rudyard Kipling (the author of The Jungle Book!), H.G. Wells, and Bernard Shaw. I was going through the book, impressed by Chesterton’s wry thoughtfulness here, wondering if his argument was particularly effective there. Then I would encounter a section that would come alive to me. I was reminded of it recently when I was reading Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, and Kirk was criticizing utilitarians who professed a love for humanity but disdained people in their individuality and particularity, thereby projecting their own preferences and tendencies onto “humanity” and assuming that it is like them. Chesterton in Heretics has a similar discussion. He is critical of people who profess to be so cosmopolitan, yet they cannot stand people, especially regular people, in their particularities. The irony, for Chesterton, is that one can encounter an interesting diversity of tastes, preferences, and characteristics among regular people in their particularity. This section stood out to me, since I can get misanthropic, and there are aspects of some people’s lives that are important to them but do not particularly interest me. Another point that Chesterton makes is that critics of socialism are educated because at least they know about socialism in critiquing it. That stood out to me. I have not used the right-wing as a punching-bag on this blog as much as I used to, but this passage made me think about the American right. On the one hand, like, at the Joe-Conservative level, it does sometimes manifest familiarity with key historical figures, and that is impressive. On the other hand, it tends to caricature other beliefs and conflate categories, such as socialism and communism. But there are more well-read and sophisticated voices within the right, and the left too, of course, can get knee-jerk. I may give this book a reread in the far future. I can see myself getting more out of it the second time around.
B. Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton.
I moved on to Orthodoxy after reading Heresy. There was more chemistry between me and Orthodoxy than between me and Heresy. My memories of Orthodoxy are a bit spotty, however, because I would read pieces of it each day, then I stopped reading it for months, and then I returned to reading it, taking up where I had left off. Orthodoxy had Chesterton’s usual wry thoughtfulness. It struck me as a little more personal and relatable than Heretics was. A section that sticks in my mind is when Chesterton states that he used to read primarily authors who were skeptical towards Christianity, and what struck him at that time were the contradictions in their criticisms of Christianity. For example, on the one hand, they would say that Christians were push-overs because they turned the other cheek and encouraged others to do so; on the other hand, Christians were accused of being dogmatic, intolerant, and narrow-minded. That made me think of people and things I like or criticize and the question of whether my expectations of them or what I like or dislike about them are internally contradictory. Maybe! Another discussion that sticks in my mind was when Chesterton was responding to the criticism that medieval Christians were a morose lot. He notes that the opposite was the case: they were happy. Chesterton concedes here that he is not offering a thorough defense of Christianity, just thoughts, and that is something to keep in mind in reading Chesterton. For me, reading Chesterton is like reading some of C.S. Lewis’s works: I prefer to enjoy his explorations, rather than nit-picking his every single word.
I am tired, so I will stop here, for now. I was planning to do this for five books in this post, but I may save the other three for next week, or another week.