I think one could make the case that The Cloister Walk was the single most important and influential book since Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain, published half a century earlier, in terms of introducing the spirituality and life of monks and monasteries to a mainstream audience. But whereas Merton’s confessional story recounts his own journey of response to a monastic vocation, Norris — a woman, and a married Presbyterian at that — tells the story more of an outsider’s appreciation, although as a Benedictine Oblate she gets about as close to the world of the cloister as a non-monk can. Like Merton, Norris is a poet, and so she brings literary beauty and elegant eloquence to her writing; making this book a delight to read. And while she clearly loves the monks and their centuries-old way of life, she is also not afraid to ask hard questions and express her own doubts and sense of disconnection, which gives this book a sense of honesty and candor that more self-consciously pious works sometimes lack.
The Cloister Walk (New York: Riverhead Books, 1997)