Brother John by August Turak
*I did receive a physical copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.*
While Brother John: A Monk, a Pilgrim, and the Purpose of Life is a quick read to finish, you’ll end up spending quite a bit of time pondering and reflecting on what you just read, which is always a good thing. Essentially the recalling of a mundane but introspective moment in the author August Turak’s life, this work has a message that is simple yet hard to master. The book also has many gorgeous oil paintings by the artist Glenn Harrington commissioned specifically for this work. These different elements combine naturally into a work suited well for meditative reading and contemplation.
Originally this work was an essay submitted by the author in 2004 for the Templeton Prize which asked participants to respond in only a few thousand words to the prompt “What is the the purpose of life?” The author’s essay won the award and the $100,000 prize money and many years later decided to put the essay into this book format after talking to many people who enjoyed the essay. The author’s answer to the prompt largely revolved around a Trappist monk named Brother John who took the time out of his night to walk visitors (including the author) to their rooms under an umbrella due to the rain. While this seems like a very simple moment in time, the rest of the essay follows the author’s reflections later that night and afterwards about that event.
Instead of just telling you exactly what the author wrote, here is what I took away after my reading of the book. First off, selflessness is a virtue that is quite lacking in our world today. This is not a mindset that society instills in us nor is it something that we actively cultivate in our own individual lives. This is a problem in that selflessness generally centers people and brings focus into people’s lives by revealing what is important. The second takeaway is that a major reason why many people are not as selfless as they could be or even want to be is fear. This fear is largely the fear that being selfless is not worth it or that it won’t make a difference. We also ideal version of ourselves that we know we can’t ever really achieve and we are afraid of not living up to these ideal standards even if we actively try to.
Overall, Brother John is a quick read that still delivers quite a lot of food for thought. My only real complaints for the book might be to have had a little bit more extra material included as it is only a preface and the original essay. I think a little bit of material after the essay, perhaps the author reflecting on his own essay over a decade later, would have a gone a long way. And while your brain definitely won’t explode from reading this essay on the purpose of life there is a lot more than meets the eye and is a book that a reader can go back to multiple times, especially around the holiday season. Lastly, I still took away a bit from this book even though I am not Catholic. This isn’t a book that is overly preachy or requires you to be Catholic even though the setting is in a practicing monastery.
4 out of 5 stars.
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