Sunday, October 13, 2013

Monk in the Cellar by David Griffin

Just thinking about the title of this book, Monk in the Cellar, one might jump to the conclusion that this story could be dreadfully dull. Some would visualize an old, chubby guy wearing a long, brown cowl neck robe with a belt that looks like an item used for tying back heavy draperies. Think Friar Tuck. What could possibly be interesting about this guy?  I’m not even sure where to begin.

My ancestors’(and, therefore, my own as a youngster) religious roots were firmly planted in North Carolina Southern Baptist soil. My only exposure to Catholic priests and brothers was when my husband and I lived in the Albany, New York area and were not just avid--more like crazed--Siena College Basketball fans during the rein of our friend, Coach Mike Deane. But I doubt if even then I actually met any genuine monks.

According to Fr. William Saunders, in an article explaining the difference between monks, priests, brothers, nuns and sisters at, he tells us that “…a monk is a man living in a religious community and makes a final profession of the solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. A monk may be a priest or a deacon, who has received the Sacrament of Holy Orders, or a religious brother, who is not ordained. Monks live in a monastery, the word from which "monk" is derived. Depending upon the circumstances of the particular order, they may have a very strict contemplative, cloistered lifestyle, like the Order of Cistercians of Strict Observance (commonly known as the Trappists), or a less strictly cloistered lifestyle, like the Benedictines.”

Griffin’s book does a great job of explaining all of this for those who have no clue…like me. I am, however, familiar with Christian service, a desire to seek guidance from a living God, believing and trusting God’s holy Word and the Christian’s perpetual struggle between carnal versus spiritual thoughts and actions. I have also known people who have served as inspiring and dedicated foreign missionaries, but they were never required to take vows of celibacy or poverty. Yet they were dependent upon the Lord to provide.

Monk in the Cellar offers a clever approach to peek into the lives of a group of monks who made these vows and were attempting to live in harmonious community, and quite honestly, reading it was educational, thought-provoking and entertaining.

What goes on in the minds of men and women who have chosen to forgo the fulfillment of marriage and procreation? Do they forever wonder what they are missing, or is their dedication to God’s service so all-consuming that this is never a concern? It prompted me to consider the many material items that I regularly take for granted such as my home, car, golf clubs, computer, tablets, television in every room, my iPhone. And how about those intangibles such as complete freedom to schedule my time, food, clothing and accessories choices, the free will that we have been given to make our own decisions? What does a monk know or even care about these things?  

This is no boring tale. It is a story of deception, the existence of guardian angels (which I personally believe have been sent to my rescue on numerous occasions), a man’s two encounters with near death experiences and his desire to do the right thing for the welfare of others. The story contains several golden nuggets of wisdom such as, “Evil is so easy. That’s because it usually starts off with something small.”

Dave Griffin’s writing style brings the reader steadfastly into the scene with his vivid descriptions that present a movie-like reading experience. The question is raised in my mind: Is Brother Jesse a monk who toils at scholarly endeavors to serve the Almighty or because he chooses to live a safe, uncomplicated existence? How will he react when extenuating circumstances thrust him into an unexpected leadership role?

Not only is this a fascinating book, but it originated and continues as a blog--complete with photos and accompanying music from YouTube! Visitors access the site at According to the author, “Monk In The Cellar was originally published serially in a blog that has accumulated thousands of hits. The author occasionally has to respond to emails and explain the blog is fiction and that Jesse is not an apostate or a heretic. Nor is he a real person. Jesse is anyone who at times doubts the purpose of the universe, but continues to search for his path anyway.”

I was simply mesmerized by this selection. I know that a story is good when certain aspects of it continue to pop back into my mind once the final page has been read and I have moved on to another book. I also recognize that a story is good when you know you should be doing a million other things, but the heart of the tale is drawing you back to continue reading, and you just can't stop yourself. Everything else must wait.
Writers are always told to write based on what we know--what is familiar to us. I could easily detect that at least a portion of this story involved a road that David has personally traveled. He’ll have to be the one to tell you where the fiction ends and the fact begins. David Griffin isn’t just another person who tells a captivating story. He is truly a talented artist who paints a canvas with words.

Book Description
Monk In The Cellar is the story of eleven monks who live in a decrepit Catskill Mountains Resort they converted into a monastery. Brother Jesse and his little band will be evicted from his home of forty years when Irish overseers decide to sell the monastery to pay off the Order's  debts. Jesse hides in the cellar print shop and ruminates most days.  When he's given a laptop and later finds an open Wi-Fi signal in the air, the aging monk posts a tell-all blog, a narrative of his order's deceit and his own disappointment. Along the way, he falls in love with his guardian angel, who later becomes his real estate agent. Monk In The Cellar is a beautifully funny account of a man who is afraid of getting old, of a life examined and found wanting.

What Prompted David Griffin to Write this Particular Book?
“I just write what comes into my head and I do it constantly, although not as much as in prior years. I have a story list of 170 stories I've written since I began writing creatively in 2007. I have over 200 ‘Starts’ and other stuff I'm working on.

I don't know why I wrote Monk, but I remember its genesis. At a writing group meeting in Woodstock in 2010, I suggested to someone they write a blog. The woman answered she wouldn't have anything to write about and I replied, ‘Make it up.’

On the way home that day, it occurred to me I could do the same, and from somewhere came the idea of writing as monk in a monastery that I placed about three miles up the road from my house.

I learned how to use Blogger and started it up. I was posting 4 or 5, sometimes 6 times each day the first month. A few people wrote to me and even asked advice. I had to reply that the blog was a spoof, and no one seemed truly upset by it. It then occurred to me I could probably turn it into a book.”
David Griffin
About David Griffin
David Griffin is retired from a career in corporate education and  communications. His essays and short stories have appeared in online journals as well as print magazines. He is a member of the South Carolina Writers Workshop and other writing groups. David publishes his essays at and self-publishes a book of stories each year that is well received by those who love him. He seldom hears from those who don’t. Griffin writes the popular blog Monk In The Cellar, and at readings plays the main character Brother Jesse with some degree of authenticity. The blog is now a novel by the same name.  

After 35 years at the foot of the mountains near Woodstock, NY, David now writes from coastal South Carolina, where he lives with his wife and her dog.



Visit with us again in two weeks for another book selection!

Best to all,
Mary Anne Benedetto

Author of Eyelash, 7 Easy Steps to Memoir Writing: Build a Priceless Legacy One Story at a Time!, Never Say Perfect and From Italy with Love & Limoncello.

No comments:

Post a Comment