… but only for want of wonder.
– Gilbert Keith Chesterton
I do sincerely love the Early Reviewers giveaways on Librarything. It was through this that I received Tomato Rhapsody, for which I am deeply grateful; and it was through this that I just received On Tremendous Trifles, by G.K. Chesterton. GKC is perhaps best known as the author of the Father Brown mysteries, but wrote so very much more – reams and sheaves and shelves, including essays for The Daily News, twenty-one of which are gathered here.
This is a small, slender trade paperback from Hesperus Press, which just feels pleasant to the hand, with its matte finish and front and back flaps. (The margins could be wider, but I’m half Scot; more words to the page I understand.) It is foreworded by Ben Schott – who is clearly someone I need to follow up on soon; the foreword was as much fun as one of the essays.
And when I say it’s as much fun, that’s a tremendous compliment, because these essays are great fun. I’ve laughed out loud reading them more often than during any other book I can think of recently; the best word I can associate with this book is “delight”. A turn of phrase here, the turning upside down of a phrase there, a philosophical conceit somewhere, a purely GKC insult elsewhere – I love it.
One essay in particular, (http://grammar.about.com/od/60essays/a/chalkessay.htm)”A Piece of Chalk”, was especially delightful in that I can honestly imagine it as having inspired two of the giants in my reading pantheon, Dorothy L. Sayers and J.R.R. Tolkien. For JRRT: I found myself grinning as GKC played “what have I got in my pockets” – “Once I planned to write a book of poems entirely about things in my pockets. But I found it would be too long; and the age of the great epics is past…” I can just imagine a thought process whereby that subliminally influenced the beginning of the Ring story. (Then, of course, the 12th essay in the book is actually called “What I Found in My Pocket”.) And for DLS: suffice to say without spoiling anything that something forgotten in this essay is almost exactly identical to something that helped give Lord Peter the tip that an artist’s death was murder, no accident, in The Five Red Herrings. From what I can find, DLS certainly read Chesterton; it’s no great stretch of the imagination that Tolkien did as well. I love it.
Throughout, the essays provoke laughter, and nodding of my head, and blank stares as a new way of looking at things unwinds behind my eyes. They’re essays about his sprained ankle – and thus the advantages of having a leg; and the wind in the trees, or is it the trees in the wind?; and a cab-man’s mistake, which becomes a metaphysical question about what is real. There is the hansom cab that throws him out, and the cows which gather to consult about his strange behavior, and the croquet game which alarms him (which was one of my favorites), and, of course, his pocket contents … I would start listing my favorite quotes, but that would entail most of the book. What a gift and treasure this book is. Everything else I own by him just moved up a great many rungs on the “need to (re)read soon” ladder.
Wikipedia: “Chesterton is honored with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on June 13.” (Why not the 14th, which is the anniversary of his death (in 1936)?) (Oh – the 14th belongs to Basil the Great, Bishop of Cae) But how did that happen? *Did* it happen?? I’m not seeing it on calendars I can locate online … Perhaps it’s in the works. This will bear further looking into. What fun. There’s a saint I could feel utterly comfortable calling upon. Though his response might be somewhat erratic…