Novels with routines involving prayer, learning or ... cleaning
June 15, 2017 10:18 PM   Subscribe

I realized I really like chapters in novels where a character is engaged in some routine, meditative, or prayerful exercise and am looking for some suggestions.

For example I loved the Shakespeare series by Charlaine Harris where the protagonist is a housecleaner (who inevitably finds a dead body in the course of her work) but in the meantime really gets INTO the housecleaning. I also liked the Arya chapters in the Game of Thrones books where she basically sweeps the temple and learns about poisons. Another example would be the Essie Tregowan chapter in American Gods where she makes regular religious offerings over the course of her life.

Basically character development plus routine hit the sweet spot. Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, although it has the perfect title, doesnt fit what I'm looking for.

Specific chapter recommendations welcome. I think there's some of this in Harry Potter but I skimmed the series and never zeroed in on sections that covered this topic in particular. Thanks!
posted by charlielxxv to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I think you'd almost certainly enjoy many of Haruki Murakami's books. A bunch of them have extended descriptions of routine tasks, most often cooking.
posted by potrzebie at 10:49 PM on June 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

Hyperion. By Dan Simmons.

Not an easy going kinda book. It has two characters who deal a lot with prayer. Fr. Lennar Hoyt who prays to be released from a tortuous pain and Saul Weintraub who prays to make sense of his daughter's affliction--serious major biblical impact with this one!

Four novel series. High level Space Opera Science Fiction. My all time favorite.
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 11:58 PM on June 15, 2017

Chapter 5 of Lonesome Dove sets up a character's routine of cooking biscuits for breakfast outdoors while reading and appreciating the landscape. (And set off a mild baking obsession in me when I first read it as a student.) Chapter 1 I think involves his evening routine, and Chapters 2-4 have the routines of other characters, but it has been a while since I read it...

The early chapters have a lot of character and setting exposition, which sets up the story nicely for the big changes that become the main plot.
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 12:35 AM on June 16, 2017

Seconding Haruki Murakami, particularly 1Q84. Amid all the epic strangeness, there are numerous chapters devoted to the protagonists calmly and methodically preparing simple, healthy meals.
posted by Hugobaron at 3:22 AM on June 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

There's a chapter late in Jane Eyre in which she does a massive spring clean of her cousins' house and it's great. 'My first aim will be to clean down (do you comprehend the full force of the expression?) — to clean down Moor House from chamber to cellar.'
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 3:25 AM on June 16, 2017

Marilynne Robinson's novels fit this to a tee. There's a lot about the routine of keeping house in Housekeeping, and habits of prayer are important in Gilead and Home and Lila.

Ursula Le Guin also loves to write a lot about the routines of domestic life. Her Earthsea books involve a lot of delighted attention to characters' undergoing the process of learning magic, learned sacred dances, sailing boats, cooking, cleaning, and keeping goats. Routines of learning and of day to day living are also important in The Dispossessed and The Telling, and The Telling does more with spiritual and religious practice as well.
posted by Aravis76 at 3:55 AM on June 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

There's a lot of cleaning and prepping (and listing things, if you're into that) in the Little House on the Prairie books. 30 years after reading them, those bits are really the only ones that I still remember. Fascinating stuff.
posted by ElectricGoat at 4:33 AM on June 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm hesitant to recommend Orson Scott Card, but Xenocide has a character who's sort of conditioned into obsessive behavior via cleaning (or something; it's been over twenty years since I read it). It's the fourth book in a series, though, with nothing like that in the books before it.
But that was the first thing I thought of.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 4:46 AM on June 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

Ann Leckie's trilogy Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy has a lot of this kind of thing, especially books 2 and 3. Characters cleaning the ship together (while singing!), serving breakfast together, making tea (so much making of tea!), and practicing individual religious observations. There are detailed descriptions of the material culture, especially the tea sets. This is not your average space opera.
posted by heatherlogan at 5:44 AM on June 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

Chaim Potok's novels about Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn have lots of everyday life plus regular religious rituals like morning and evening prayers, blessings, Sabbath. The most well-known is "The Chosen" which became a movie, but there are several more.
posted by mermayd at 6:09 AM on June 16, 2017

The first book of Karl ove knaussgard's my struggle (sometimes called a death in the family) has a super amazing and long scene where Karl cleans his fathers place, then cooks salmon for dinner. (Bonus: if you love it as much as I do, and feel like reading 3600 pages, book 5 revisits the cleaning.)
It's not cleaning, but the scenes in Anna Karenina where they plan the farm are soothing in the same way.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 6:28 AM on June 16, 2017

In Franny and Zooey, Franny's obsessed with the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me."), which she's attempting to say ceaselessly.
posted by thursdaystoo at 7:00 AM on June 16, 2017

Girl with a Pearl Earring has a lot of this, both careful cleaning and careful stillness.
posted by Mchelly at 8:21 AM on June 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Neal Stephenson's Anathem is primarily set in a monastery and involves a lot of focused activity of the type you're looking for.
posted by snaw at 8:49 AM on June 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Chapter 8 of Steven Sherrill's The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break describes the minotaur's daily "ablutions." Beyond that, though, most of what the minotaur does (from cooking to car repair) is described as carefully methodical if not ritualistic.
posted by Boxenmacher at 9:03 AM on June 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

There's a fair amount of important housecleaning in Sarah Waters' The Paying Guests.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:29 AM on June 16, 2017

Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder is full of ritual prayer, but maybe not the kind you're looking for -- it isn't comforting. It's a great book, though.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:32 AM on June 16, 2017

Anna Karenina has a really long chapter where the landowner goes out and works with the peasants on farming all day, and believes he has gained insight into the mysteries of existence thereby.
posted by praemunire at 10:22 AM on June 16, 2017

I've only ever seen parts of the tv show, but I wonder does All Creatures Great and Small have the kind of detailed routine you might be looking for?
posted by Mister Moofoo at 11:27 AM on June 16, 2017

These aren't fiction, and YMMV depending on your own religiosity, but I love the work of Kathleen Norris. In particular, The Cloister Walk and The Quotidian Mysteries might fit the bill. The first follows her spiritual and personal journey for a year following the rhythms and routines at a Benedictine monastery. The second is her exploration of the spiritual lessons in daily chores, aka the "liturgy of laundry."
posted by hessie at 11:37 AM on June 16, 2017

This is one of the reasons I love nun books. Check out Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede or Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy or Kathryn Hulme's The Nun's Story.
posted by gideonfrog at 12:40 PM on June 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So many awesome and divergent recommendations! Space opera! Nun books! Little House on the Prairie! I feel like favoriting all. Can't wait to get started.
posted by charlielxxv at 1:15 PM on June 16, 2017

FYI, the ritualistic behavior in Speaker for the Dead is tracing wood grains. And as I remember it, it's very detailed.
posted by teleri025 at 1:36 PM on June 16, 2017

I will second Ursula K LeGuin and mention specifically Always Coming Home. Most of the book concerns details of domestic and spiritual rituals.
posted by darchildre at 1:42 PM on June 16, 2017

I was going to also site Murakami, but for ironing!
posted by coevals at 3:15 PM on June 16, 2017

Some of Nicholson Baker's books, especially Room Temperature.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 3:30 PM on June 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding Stephenson, particularly Anathem, but also stuff in Cryptonomicon.

It's been ages since I read any of them, but you might like the magic system material in L.E. Modesitt, Jr.'s Recluce novels.
posted by brennen at 11:04 AM on June 19, 2017

Coming back in a week late to mention one that just came to mind -- midway through chapter 16 of Tipping the Velvet is an extensive description of cleaning a house.
posted by jeudi at 10:42 AM on June 23, 2017

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