Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Stolen Time

It turns out there are few joys that can rival the joy of reading a book you know you shouldn't be reading. Allow me to explain.

Last week I was sitting in a class—Romanticism and War, if you must know—which is held in the Graduate Student Library, a room on the second floor of Ellis Hall that is one side all bookshelves crammed with books in no readily-discernible order (sometimes they appear to be chronological and other times topical), one side all windows looking out on big trees and freedom, and between them both a large table that fills the room. I was sitting in the back corner on the bookshelf side, and as I squirmed a little in my chair, my eye caught on a book quite a bit more slender than its fellows. It was G. K. Chesterton's The Amazing Adventures of Father Brown.

I knew immediately that I must read this book. On the one hand, it was written by G. K. Chesterton, who was a fantastic essayist (even though no one today has ever heard of him). He was also a writer of many other things including 52 Father Brown short stories, 10 of which are compiled in this book, and he was a great popular Christian thinker, like a pre-C. S. Lewis C. S. Lewis.

On the other hand, the book was short, falling apart, and printed on yellowing, mass-market pulpy paper; it was a book you might find on the paperbacks rack at the library, crammed between a Star Trek novel and a beat-up Grisham, while looking for something much more respectable. I couldn't resist the temptation.

The thing was: I knew I shouldn't be reading this book. Not that isn't worthy—I just have so many other books I should be reading. For Romanticism and War alone I was supposed to be reading Byron and Austen, not to mention several articles and chapters on Shelley I needed to be skimming for a paper that's due soon. On top of that there's a stack of books in my room that have just come in from amazon (thank you economic stimulus), half of which are meant to further my career and the other half of which I just wanted to read. On top of that there's a desk full of books bought long before and still waiting to be read, and a list of books to check out when I get the time tacked up on my wall. Of all the books I should be reading, The Amazing Adventures of Father Brown was not one of them.

Which is precisely why I had to read it.

Father Brown is a Catholic priest who has an uncanny ability for solving mysteries, mostly murders. In each tale he applies his unfailing reason to the case and discovers the killer, his method, and his motive. It's a little bit Sherlock Holmes, a little bit Poirot, and a little bit Encyclopedia Brown, and I've been eating up every word, savoring every minute I'm reading this instead of anything else.

And as if that wasn't enough, this book actually incorporates one of the other great joys: the joy of found things. Everyone knows that the best clothes are the ones you didn't buy but found—the t-shirt you borrowed and never gave back after getting wet at your friend's slumber party, the hat you swiped from your cousin on that visit, the jacket left at work that no one claimed. Well it works the same for books. My first one was The Further Adventures of Batman, which I found in a used book shop in Lincoln, Nebraska, and recently I read that Will Smith autobiography that Dave came across. Both were similarly pulpy and brittle, both were stealing time from nobler pursuits, both were awesome.

And so my friends, to bed, where I will be reading the tenth and final case in Father Brown, appropriately titled "The Blast of the Book."

1 comment:

Janssen said...

This is so true - nothing feels better than reading an unassigned book while the assigned books pile up around you.