Monday, January 16, 2012

A Chesterton Buffet

I was reading a recently published collection of the best Chesterton essays when I thought of a local Chinese restaurant.

I wasn't thinking of Chesterton's dining habits. Indeed, I have doubts that Chesterton ever ate what we think of as Chinese food - though I don't know that for certain. Maybe he did enjoy an egg roll or some chow mein at some point.

The restaurant in question serves meals, but the bulk of its business is its buffet. It has four rows of various Chinese and non-Chinese foods - pizza?? - with heated pans and heat lights. Most diners just grab plates and wander up and down the rows taking a little bit of this and a little bit of that, though there are always some individuals who grab a lot of this and a lot of that until their plates are piled so high one wonders how much of the food will actually make it to their tables.

Once while eating in this restaurant I began to reflect on differing styles of enjoying a buffet of this sort. I observed some people who would go to one row, fill their plates from that row only, and then head back to their seats to eat. When they finished their first plate they would then go back and load up from the second row, and so on, in order until they had visited each row. Did some of them methodically take a little bit of everything? Perhaps.

Then there are those who circulated among the rows, taking this from this row and that from that row. When they went back, they continued the pattern. Perhaps they had favorites and only ate those foods. Perhaps they were afraid to try new things. Or perhaps they were like me, vegetarians who avoid meat dishes.

Recalling this restaurant got me to musing about reading styles when approaching collections of any sort.

There are some people who seem to enjoy by sampling pieces in various sections of the book. Perhaps they seek out particular topics or writers, or maybe they just trust to luck and read whatever they come to that captures their interest.

There are some collections that lend themselves to this sort of sampling.

Then there are those people who methodically work their way through the collection from preface to index.

There are some collections that lend themselves to this approach.

Both methods have their pluses and minuses.

The sampling method ensures that one will enjoy what one reads for such readers tend to gravitate toward those things for which they already have an interest.

But in doing so, such readers might miss out on gems that just didn't happen to catch their attention.

The methodical readers take in everything the collection contains, good and bad, and thus might have a complete understanding of the organizing principle behind the collection, and along the way perhaps discover unknown treasures and nuggets of information they might otherwise never have encountered.

On the other hand, they might also run into a patch of less interesting pieces that might lead them to stop reading.

When it comes to Chesterton, either approach is acceptable. You can just plunge in and sample as the spirit moves you. Or you can work your way through from beginning to end, knowing that because it is Chesterton there won't be any less interesting pieces to get you questioning whether or not to go on.

When it comes to the restaurant - and many collections - I tend to be a sampler.

With this collection of Chesterton, I'm going the cover-to-cover route.

Either way works well when accompanied by a nice cup of tea.

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