I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of McKay’s bookstore. It’s this building in Chatanooga, Tennessee, that sits like a giant box beside the freeway.
When I say giant, I mean massive. It’s literally the largest bookstore I’ve ever been inside. Aisle after aisle of used books all jumbled together, and I think I could spend a good several hours in there and be perfectly happy with that scenario.
We ended up there for the second time in my life last August, on our way to a convention in Kentucky. I can’t remember when the idea had come into my head, but I wanted to try and find something by G.K. Chesterton. I’d been hearing about him for a long time, I’d even read The Man Who Was Thursday, and I felt like reading more of his work.
I actually found some, too. I don’t remember there being any others, but sandwiched in between all the larger tomes I discovered a slim little volume of Father Brown Stories.
Now, my mom has been reading aloud to us since before I can remember, and I’ve always been rather anxious to keep up the tradition. And for whatever odd reason I’ve become the book-finder of the family (oh, I don’t know, could it be because I follow about twelve hundred blogs?). But anyway, I told my mom she needed to read aloud the Father Brown Stories. And she did.
And about all I can say is, wow. Chesterton was one of those few authors who was truly genius. His descriptions alone make the books worth reading – the way he uses metaphor and paints with his words, not just a picture, but a feeling and atmosphere; and truly breathtaking prose besides.
I think it was on the back of the book (sadly I can’t find it now) that it said these stories were insights into human nature. And they really are. The main character is a little priest, who is far wiser to the uglier aspects of human character than you might imagine (after all, he does listen to confessions day after day). And he also possesses a striking logic. A lot of these are hardly mysteries in the proper sense, more like stories of Father Brown figuring things out. He’s one of the most lovable characters ever, simply because of his eccentricity – he’s not afraid to do the most odd, unusual things, although usually you’ll figure out that they have quite a definite purpose.
Although most of the stories are light, even a little whimsical, on the surface, there’s way more depth than what meets the eye. They deal with murder, corruption, and evil, and woven in where you almost have to look a second time to see it, there’s the profound wisdom of a great theologian and thinker. And yet, with all that, there’s still the little clergyman from Essex quite deliberately putting salt in the sugar bowl.
Have you read any of Chesterton’s books? Which are your favorites? Have you ever been to McKay’s Bookstore?