In Praise of the Useless Life: A Monks Memoir by Paul Quenon

In praise of a useless life cover imageSummary: A meandering memoir about the life of a monk, with lots of time devoted to his novice master, Thomas Merton.

I remember In Praise of the Useless Life coming out a few years ago and having largely positive reviews. I put it on my “to-read” list and picked it up recently because it was free to borrow from Audible if you are a premium member.

Generally, it is one of those books that I am not disappointed I read, but I also do not recommend it. The story meanders without really having much focus. Much of the short memoir is about the author’s relationship with Thomas Merton. Quenon was only 17 when he came to the monastery. Merton (known in the monastery as Father Lewis) was Quenon’s novice master. The stories are fine, but nothing in it drew me in.

The title “In Praise of a Useless Life” did not reflect the book. Quenon has published many poetry books and contributed to several photography books. Merton was well known but far from the only extraordinary monastery member. If anything, the memoir was about extraordinary lives, not useless ones. I get the point; a life of prayer and service is not “exciting,” but the visitor’s and monks’ work as writers, artists, and spiritual directors is far from useless. Maybe I was primed for a different book by the title, but it just isn’t a book that grabbed me, nor one that I would put much effort into reading. If you borrowed it for free like I did, it may be worth it, but there are so many books available that I would probably get another instead of this one.

In Praise of the Useless Life: A Monks Memoir by Paul Quenon Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

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