Friday, March 02, 2007

"The Apostle of Common Sense" by Dale Ahlquist

The Omaha Chesterton Society finally managed to re-schedule its winter meeting (in between snowstorms) to discuss The Apostle of Common Sense, Dale Ahlquist’s marvelous overview of G.K. Chesterton. It was, as always, a great time – invigorating fellowship among the Chestertonians, delicious treats (provided this time around by Kathy), and our comfortable confines there at Mercy Villa where Sr. Rita Jane plays hostess. And, for this quarter's meeting, we also enjoyed a fruitful discussion of one of the best introductions to GKC ever written.

Dale’s book is, not surprisingly, quite good when he quotes Chesterton. And he does that a lot. However, Dale’s own comments are also a genuine treasure. His insights on what to emphasize, how to tease the reader, how to make effective transitions from topic to topic, when to provide valuable background, and how to effectively drop in his own wise perspectives are all superb. The Apostle of Common Sense clearly shows why Dale Ahlquist so loves Gilbert Chesterton. But it also shows why Chesterton fans so love Dale Ahlquist!

As Dale explains early on, the book concentrates on the Christian and specifically Catholic writings of GK. Not explored are his poetry, plays, novels or literary criticism. But that’s not a serious drawback – even as no single person can fully embrace the biggest writer of the 20th Century, so too could no single book fully cover the whole of his enormous career. But what this book does is give a very good start by describing Chesterton’s most important polemic works: Orthodoxy, Heretics, The Thing, The Everlasting Man and eight others. And Dale even throws in an extra chapter examining GKC's most enduring fictional character, the detective Father Brown.

Dale thus provides with this book an excellent introduction to Gilbert but he also lights the lamps for the reader to begin his own get-acquainted course. And since Dale's goal is to get readers into Chesterton himself, The Apostle of Common Sense succeeds admirably.

Karin, one of the newer members of the Omaha group, confessed that she hadn’t been too keen on Chesterton despite the fact that her husband and several friends were enthusiastic fans. But her only experience was with GK’s fiction (The Man Who Was Thursday, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, Manalive and others). Like many, she found these a bit confusing (sometimes even exhausting!) even though they were always full of frolic and fun. Karin explained, however, that in reading Dale Ahlquist’s book, she really had things change around for her. She admired at new levels Chesterton's learning and his convictions. She identified with his devotion to family, to his love of life, to his enthusiastic and visionary Christianity. And, as Dale revealed the personality of the writer, Karin realized that she really liked Chesterton himself and wanted to read more...for her own purposes this time, not just to stay up with others. Aha! The Apostle of Common Sense ropes another one in!

So, for quotes galore (arranged conveniently by book); for a splendid introduction to the life and philosophy of GK Chesterton; for a very helpful overview of GK’s major polemic works; and for a joyous argument for the current culture’s crying need for more GK Chesterton, Dale Ahlquist’s The Apostle of Common Sense is just the trick.

The book can be ordered right from the American Chesterton Society (which, I'm sure, Dale would prefer) at this ACS book page. Or there is always Ignatius Press or Amazon.