2. Find the topic. Because Chesterton was a journalist, he wrote on ideas, bringing them into his historical and national context. Find the idea, perhaps even condense it down to a word, before you go further. If needed, refer to Mortimer Adler’s 102 Great Ideas in his Syntopicon and see if any of those are the point of the text.
3. Distinguish the principle from his examples. Once you’ve determined the idea, the rest of the verbal parade takes shape. Chesterton loves to crowd his writing with examples, this one then that one, all to clarify and cast greater light on his main point.
4. Read with the main idea in mind, always. Chesterton can be dizzying sometimes, especially if the reader forgets the main point. At times he appears to bound, analogize, and turn the idea this way then that. In one paragraph he makes a point about tyranny, and in the next he sculpts a critique of Kipling or Calvin or carriage rides in frock coats. The reader who fails to ask what these have to do with the main point will miss a large portion of Chesterton’s genius: to wander without straying.
5. Don’t expect to know every illustration or cultural allusion. Many of Chesterton’s contemporary examples are to highlight the main point, and he often gives several in a row, usually with a more universal and historical one thrown in to further prove his point. The more we can understand Chesterton’s time and place, the more we can understand Chesterton. But because Chesterton wrote about the things most common to all men, we could just as quickly find our own contemporary examples to prove his point.
6. Look for paradox. Chesterton uses paradox both as the point of his writing and as a way to get to the point. There is scarcely a page where something paradoxical isn’t happening. These twist and turn around the main point. Find the paradox and you are closer to the center than when you first begun.
7. Don’t swallow everything. I love Chesterton, but not as much as I love the truth. This may sound strange since I believe he says so much of the truth. Even still, read, as you would with any other author, with a mild skepticism, with an intelligent consideration of the point, its proofs, and the contemporary parallels.
8. Get to know Chesterton’s friends. We can know a man by time with him, and we can know a man by time around those who the man has befriended, and those who have befriended the man. Spend time with Chesterton’s friends, even those counted among the democracy of the dead, and you just may find your next visit with Chesterton is all the more lively.
9. Get to know Chesterton’s enemies. Just like much of what Chesterton says is in correspondence with the ideas of his friends, much of what he says is in dialogue with his enemies, even those ideas which had overtaken and plundered England, and perhaps still do. Furthermore, it is by getting to know Chesterton’s enemies we get to know what Chesterton loves, what he is willing to fight for, perhaps even what he is willing to die for. And that tells us more of a man than what he is willing to live for.
10. Be ready to laugh. Chesterton did not approach the world with too much sobriety, precisely because he held the world, and all God is doing in it, with such reverence. He once said that a man can only laugh at something if he takes it serious. Be ready to laugh with, and sometimes even at, Chesterton, for then you can be sure you are taking him seriously.