Book Recommendation: ‘A Psalm for the Wild-Built’ by Becky Chambers

Recommended by ADAM WAYMAN, Bookseller, Fair Isle Books

In our family book club – an idea we copied from Washington Island’s Hansen family – we’re often torn between wanting to read something unusual and thought-provoking, and picking something more comfortable and fun. Especially when looking at the news seems depressing (like now) and you’ve stressed out the rest of the family with your book choice before (like I have), it feels safer to aim for the pleasant. With our most recent read, we lucked out and got both.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built is a novella in the Monk and Robot series written by Becky Chambers, the author most famous for writing the Wayfarers books, a hopeful and heartwarming science-fiction series. Here she creates a different universe with a similar tone: an optimistic and outright cozy world that seems lived-in enough to feel real rather than uncannily utopian. 

As the series title suggests, the two main characters are a monk and a robot – specifically, a monk whose vocation is serving people tea and emotional support, and a robot who loves observing nature. Their cultures haven’t seen each other for hundreds of years, so they have many, many questions to discuss with each other.

For a book with so much warmth, there’s a surprisingly raw current of yearning and uncertainty in the story. It deals with questions of purpose and identity not through elaborate metaphors, but instead through the simple and maddening struggle of feeling lost and not knowing where you want to go. This seems to be a question not just for the characters, but maybe also for the world they live in. The beginning of finding the answer, the book tells us, is sometimes just sitting down for a cup of tea. Even a bad one.

The sequel, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, is coming out this month.

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