Authors: Richard Starks and Miriam Murcutt

Publisher: Lyons Press (2012)

ISBN: 978-0-7627-8145-4

More a travelogue than a guidebook, A Room with a Pew chronicles the adventures of Richard Starks and Miriam Murcutt as they try out-of-the-ordinary accommodations while touring Spain. Instead of staying in hotels or resorts, they opt to stay in monasteries. These aren’t monasteries that have been converted into hotels, either—they are monasteries that remain true to their calling of housing those involved in the work of God.

The two authors weave their story into one first-person singular account, which did leave some room for questioning which of the two made some of the observations. However, it also lent an easy flow to the writing.

These are obviously seasoned world travelers who were undaunted by the rough terrain they had to traverse in many cases in order to reach their destination. They also didn’t seem to be bothered in the least by the spare furnishings and meager meals they were afforded in most locations. But, then again, they insist they went into the journey without an agenda, so they are also evidently expert at keeping their expectations to a minimum. I know I would have a difficult time consenting to stay in a place that smelled dank and mildewed, or that was extremely cold, as were two of the buildings in which they roomed.

They also make a point of trying to discover something about the routines of those who choose the monastic life. They’ve interviewed some of the monks and nuns and asked questions, the most important ones revolving around faith. The authors—or at least, one of the authors—struggle mightily with trying to get to the truth about faith. I kept hoping that their journey would be an even more fulfilling one, but it didn’t seem that they got a bolt out of the blue by asking questions about the subject. Nevertheless, they did admit to learning a degree of respect for those who had committed to a life of prayer and (mostly) seclusion.

I enjoyed the history that provided the backdrop for how the orders were formed, who built the monasteries, how they evolved throughout the ages, and so forth. I think It would have been beneficial if some of the historic points had been annotated, just as a point of reference and in order to delve more deeply into some of the history.

The only criticism I have is the inclusion of some very stale jokes. It’s not that they aren’t funny—or at least, they were the first time I heard them--but that was many years ago.

If you have any inclination to try an offbeat way of seeing Spain, this book would give you some options. The authors do a good job of giving step-by-step advice about how to approach such a trip, and, given their degree of travel experience, I would say it would be most helpful advice.

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