Tremendous Trifles (by GK Chesterton)

I’ve liked GK Chesterton’s writing for many years now, ever since I first discovered his ‘Father Brown’ detective stories when I was a teenager. He wrote with an ironic humour that was unusual at the end of the 19th century and early 20th. He also had a keen eye for observation, which often makes me see things in a new philosophical light.

Since his work is now out of copyright, I’ve been able to download several volumes onto my Kindle at no cost, either from Amazon or from Project Gutenberg. I am gradually reading my way through them. I began ‘Tremendous Trifles’ about six months ago, and quickly realised that it was a work to dip into at random rather than something to read straight through.

This volume consists of a collection of some of Chesterton’s journalistic essays, which were originally published as part of an ongoing newspaper column. As such, each chapter is complete in itself. Most are somewhat thought-provoking, some are whimsical, a few are decidedly bizarre.

The titles and contents of the essays are quite a mixture, with a theme of ordinariness tying them together. Chesterton claims, in the introduction, that he is trying to encourage his readers to look at everyday objects - such as ceilings, or pens, or fences - and ponder their significance for a while rather than taking them for granted. This is what he attempts to do in the essays which result. Some of them, I assume, are true anecdotes, while others are entirely imaginative.

I didn’t know quite what to make of this, at first. If I picked it up when I was tired, or if I happened to be reading an essay that required specific knowledge of places or politicians who were unknown to me, then I read the words and took in very little of what was there. However, others of the stories appealed strongly. From time to time I came across a sentence or two that struck quite a chord; not that I can recall any of them now.

I’m glad I read this book, but I can’t see myself picking it up again; nor would I really recommend it to anyone other than fans of Chesterton’s writing who are interested in seeing something rather different from his better-known works. As social history - this is the nearest the author got to journalling, he says - they certainly have some value, and there are nicely ironic touches that I appreciated when reading. But inevitably it’s very dated, and unlikely to appeal to those of a less reflective, faster-paced generation.

Note that the given links are to paperback editions of this book, which seems to have remained constantly in print over the decades. There are several different electronic versions too, some of them free and others not.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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