Tonight I found myself rereading Chesterton's Orthodoxy. I bought it recently, only to find that I already owned it. And as I read it, I remembered reading it before. I also remembered the feeling it brought to me then, since I'm experiencing it once again now.
Chesterton is a great writer. I could turn to almost any page and be sure of finding a quotable phrase. For example, on being asked which book he would want with him on a dessert island, if he could only have one: "Why, A Practical Guide to Shipbuilding, or course." Of course. This is what it's like to read Chesterton, page after page of clever, devilishly-witty prose. However, despite his surefootedness, there's something missing from his writing. Reading him is to read only the answers and never the questions. He writes:
By the end of this book I hope to give a definite, some will think a far too definite, answer.
I understand and empathize with him. He had chosen to fight a particular fight that required his argument to show up in certain ways, or have it not show up at all. I find in reading him the sense that I've been given the answer key to a test I'm not taking at the moment, perhaps one for a course that is no longer being offered. The answers are very well written, and I can lose myself in them. But I can't help but wonder what the questions were, or even why he chose to tackle these particular questions.
If only I could talk to this great man about the questions, what brought them to mind, and how he came to his answers. I think that would let me take more from him than I can from this book. The problems he solves aren't my particular problems, at least not tonight. And because his answers are so specific, it's hard to walk them back to the ones I do have.