Essay / Culture

"G. K. Chesterton, We Love You!" – Brazil

There’s something funny about professors who teach old books being involved in new media. That’s what Scriptorium Daily is, of course – people talking about old stuff in a new venue. It’s funny because of what conventional wisdom leads us to believe – that the more old books we read, the more inclined we are to be stuck in the past.

Exhibit 1 to the contrary is the Christian Web Conference coming up this week, in which the Torrey Honors Institute’s founder, John Mark Reynolds, and many Torrey students past and present will play key roles.

Exhibit 2 involves G. K. Chesterton, the internet and Brazil. The story begins with Mark Carpenter. I met Mark at church a while back. He was visiting his son, Alex, an alum of the Torrey Honors Institute now living with his wife Lisa in Long Beach and working on an MFA. Mark was visiting from Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he is publisher of Editora Mundo Cristão, the nation’s largest independent Christian publishing company. Here’s the story he told me:

Here’s a brief summary of our experience with Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. We commissioned a new Portuguese-language translation of this title to commemorate the 100th anniversary of its original publication in England. The translator, Almiro Pisetta, is a highly gifted former English-language poetry professor at the University of São Paulo. We published the book in January 2008. During the week of its release we announced that we would make the entire manuscript available as a free read-only PDF download at our website. There was one catch: the manuscript would only be available for 24 hours. The announcement was made just hours before the beginning of the download period. Several bloggers got wind of the promotion and spread the word to their readers, who in turn told other bloggers. Within the 24-hour period 3,000 people downloaded the manuscript.

The resulting buzz raised awareness about the book just as secular-media reviewers across the country received complimentary copies. Within a month the book had received glowing reviews in Brazil’s top media, including Veja magazine and several leading Brazilian newspapers, including O Estado de S. Paulo and Folha de S. Paulo. The book was briefly featured in the bestseller lists of the national Livraria Cultura bookstore chain as well as Veja online. In short, a book which under normal circumstances would sell 2,000-3,000 copies in Brazil during its first year has so far sold 10,000 copies. As a result of its success, we have made plans to release another Chesterton classic, The Everlasting Man. The translation was just finished.

We are pleased to bring Chesterton back into the spotlight at a time in which Christian philosophy is under attack around the world. Chesterton’s intellect, wit, and graciousness continue to attract even the most demanding of readers back to the Gospel message.

On the one hand, this is a story about new media savvy in the business world, about a well-timed strategy and a risk that paid off. It is also a story about the enduring relevance and resonance of old books, especially when they are old books that tell the truth. Maybe, too, it is a story about the thirst of people for one truth in particular – the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In case you haven’t read it, here is just the table of contents of Chesterton’s Orthodoxy to whet your appetite:

1. Introduction in Defence of Everything Else
2. The Maniac
3. The Suicide of Thought
4. The Ethics of Elfland
5. The Flag of the World
6. The Paradoxes of Christianity
7. The Eternal Revolution
8. The Romance of Orthodoxy
9. Authority and the Adventurer

Okay, one more hors d’oeuvre, the final lines of the book:

Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in ever other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.

Share this essay [social_share/]