The best laid plans often go awry, life is what happens when you’re making other plans, and reading lists are meant to expand and veer off in unexpected direction. I suppose my fall reading list was less of a “list” than a structural guideline, and of late I’ve seen this list shift and grow. I mean, I’ll get to everything on the list eventually, but much like Chesterton’s thoughts on the delight of running after ones hat when it’s caught in a gust of wind, I’m chasing my reading impulse wherever it leads me.
One of the main additions to my list (along with Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, Flannery O’Conner’s Mystery and Manners, and a number of academic texts) was GK Chesterton’s On Running After One’s Hat and Other Whimsies. It was utterly delightful, and I wanted to share some of my favorite quotes.
On the delights of losing your hat to the wind and other misfortunes:
An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered (6).
On the delights of regionally specific cheese, which somehow turns into something that reminds me strongly of Chapter 3 of Mill’s Utilitarianism.
Bad customs are universal and rigid, like modern militarism. Good customs are universal and varied, like native chivalry and self-defense. Both the good and bad civilization cover us as with a canopy, and protect us from all that is outside. But a good civilization spreads over us freely like a tree, varying and yielding because it is alive. A bad civilization stands up and sticks out above us like an umbrella – artificial, mathematical in shape; not merely universal, but uniform (15).
On playing croquet and the meaning of life:
If you could play unerringly you would not play at all. the moment the game is perfect, the game disappears (63).
On the conceptual nature of language, which reads like the end of Part 1 of Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality:
So when hard-headed fellows who study scientific sociology (which does not exist) come and tell you that civilization is material or indifferent to the abstract, just ask yourself how many of the things that make up our society, the Law, or the Stocks and Shares, or the National Debt, you would be able to convey with your face and your ten fingers by grinning and gesticulating to a German inn keeper [about what you owe for cigars] (77).
On the delights of being a tourist and his disdain for hipsters and all who are too cool for school:
If there is one thing more dwarfish and pitiful than irreverence for the past, it is irreverence for the present, for the passionate and many coloured procession of life, which includes the charabanc among its many chariots and triumphal cars (105).
And now, I run back to my reading list before it gets away from me again!