A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

A tea monk and an intelligent robot search for meaning in this brief, optimistic read from the author of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Thoughtful and gently paced, it offers a sweet taste of what’s surely a longer journey to come in future books.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers imagines a world in which the type of life we know today has been relegated to the past, a quaint and quirky way of life now mercifully gone. Instead, humans have strictly confined their towns and cities, leaving half their planet as wilderness for nature to run free. Somewhere in that wilderness, however, are some originally man-made creatures: robots who long ago gained sentience and left humanity in order to live freely in nature. Their fate has been unknown, until now. Sibling Dex, a monk (who uses they/them pronouns) from the Meadow Den monastery in a bustling city, has begun craving wide-open spaces and cricket songs. So they leave the city to become a wandering tea monk. Eventually even small towns and villages become too much civilization, and Dex seeks out wilder places, only to come face to face with the robots’ emissary, Mosscap, sent to answer the question: What do humans need?

This may be the gentlest book I’ve ever read – tea wagons, herbs, lush forests, biking through the countryside, and much more combine to make a beautifully soothing backdrop for the story. The god Sibling Dex serves is even called the God of Small Comforts. Which is not to say that everything is happiness and sunshine: Dex struggles with feelings of dissatisfaction, and their customers at their tea wagon also have their share of hard problems to bear – issues which neither Dex nor new friend Mosscap can solve, only soothe with a carefully brewed cup of tea. But being soothed, by tea, by nature, or other small comforts, still helps even if the problem remains.

It’s part ecological thought experiment, part philosophical parable, and all-around-healing. If you’re in need of relief or retreat, try this beautiful, meditative book for a breath of fresh air. And then, if you’re like me, wait eagerly for the next installment.

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

Award winning mystery writer Louise Penny is back with her eighth book in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mystery series.  The Beautiful Mystery is a bit of a departure (as far as the location) from her previous books, but it just as captivating and engrossing as her previous titles.  I hold a soft spot for Three Pines, the quaint and picturesque village where the previous books are located, and even though I was a little leery of the new setting, it is definitely another superb mystery.  The book takes place in a remote Quebec monastery where 24 monks live in complete isolation and silence.  Ironically, the rest of the world has just discovered this group through their voices and a recording of their haunting and beautiful chants that have been released to the world with rave reviews.

The Beautiful Mystery opens with the shocking murder of one of the monks, Frere Matthieu, the choirmaster of the group.  Matthieu has been a champion of releasing the chants to the world in order to raise much needed funds for improvements to the monastery. Chief Inspector Gamache and his right hand man, Jean-Guy Beauvior arrive on the scene to interrogate and question the monks, attempting to piece together the puzzle of which of the remaining monks could possibly commit murder.  In addition to solving the crime at the monastery, Gamache and Beauvoir confront personal issues and demons that could have the ability to tear apart their own lives.

The Beautiful Mystery is intriguing enough on its own but if you want to start with the first book in the series pick up Still Life.

 

Into Great Silence

Into Great SilenceInto Great Silence is a compelling film that chronicles the lives of the ascetic monks of the Grande Chartreuse in the picturesque French Alps. This is a unique movie in that there is no voice over and few subtitles. The tolling of the immense church bells calling the monks to prayer provides us with a rare glimpse of the rhythm of daily life for the men who live outside of the hustle and bustle of our modern time. This stark yet beautiful documentary introduces viewers to the symbols, rituals, and traditions that the Carthusian monks have followed since the founding of this hermit order in the eleventh century.