Finding leisure in literature

| January 16, 2014 | 0 Comments

Women of all ages join The Well-Read Mom book clubs

From left, Jeannine Backstrom of St. Albert in Albertville, her daughther-in-law Lexy Backstrom of St. Louis King of France in St. Paul, and Stephanie Stokman of Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul check out a book at The Well-Read Mom conference Jan. 10 at St. John the Baptist in New Brighton. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

From left, Jeannine Backstrom of St. Albert in Albertville, her daughther-in-law Lexy Backstrom of St. Louis King of France in St. Paul, and Stephanie Stokman of Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul check out a book at The Well-Read Mom conference Jan. 10 at St. John the Baptist in New Brighton. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Two years ago, Marcie Stokman started a book club in her living room as a way to build friendships and have fun with other moms all while reading traditional Western and Catholic literature. Never did she imagine that her club, The Well-Read Mom, would inspire other women to start their own clubs — now totaling 74 in 26 states and one in Canada and France — and produce an annual conference.

“I know the Lord is doing this,” said Stokman, of Crosby, who homeschooled her seven children for more than 20 years. “I function with accountability. I realized that’s what women need — people to talk about the books with. You enjoy it more and grow in understanding.”

In Crosby, Stokman, who holds a master’s degree, would talk to women about why reading matters for them. When she asked what they were reading, many would tell her nothing at all, that they just didn’t have the time to read, they didn’t know where to start, or reading was not for them.

“Being a stay-at-home mom can be a hazard for your intellect, so it’s so important to get connected,” Stokman said. “We need to raise the bar. We’re raising children, forming minds and hearts. We need to get off our devices and think.”

That’s when she shared her idea for a book club with her daughter, Beth Nelson, and daughter-in-law, Stephanie Stokman, both members of Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul. They wanted a way for women to accompany each other in reading the classics.

openbook“The Holy Spirit took over,” Stephanie said. “I have no way to describe it other than that. Before we knew it, Marcie was having a pilot kick-off group in Crosby.”

Stephanie Stokman and Nelson, both stay-at-home moms with two young kids, started their own group in St. Paul and now help Marcie organize materials, create graphics and plan the conference — this year held Jan. 10 at St. John the Baptist in New Brighton.

“We created a website solely to fill the need for the one [club], and then the reading companion came along when we wanted a more concrete way to stay together in reading the books,” Stephanie said.

Any woman can join one of the book clubs at no expense. But the website — wellreadmom.com — provides audio introductions of books on The Well-Read Mom list, and presentations from the conference for registered members.

The Well-Read Mom book selections correspond with a theme. This year’s “Year of the Mother” books include works from Flannery O’Connor, Pearl S. Buck, Bess Streeter Aldrich, Brother Lawrence, Homer, Charlotte Bronte, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dorothy Day and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

“The short stories make it easy to get started, and we save the heavier books for the winter months,” Marcie Stokman said. “The conference helps with those.”

The books also follow the liturgical calendar with spiritual classics during Advent and Lent.

“The format makes it very easy to run a meeting,” said Carrie Miller, who attended the Well-Read Mom conference with her 13-year-old, Theresia. “You don’t really need to be in charge or anything because you get everything from The Well-Read Mom website. So, you don’t have to feel like you’re the expert. You just have to read and enjoy the book. I get a lot out of the tips that Marcie sends out — just different things to look for in the books that I wouldn’t have noticed or know how to interpret.”

From left, Stephanie Stokman, Marcie Stokman and Beth Nelson operate The Well-Read Mom, a book club that helps women develop habits of reading to further their spiritual and intellectual growth. The three hosted a conference Jan. 10 at St. John the Baptist in New Brighton. Nelson and Stephanie Stokman belong to Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul. Marcie, who lives in Crosby, is Nelson’s mother and Stephanie’s mother-in-law. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

From left, Stephanie Stokman, Marcie Stokman and Beth Nelson operate The Well-Read Mom, a book club that helps women develop habits of reading to further their spiritual and intellectual growth. The three hosted a conference Jan. 10 at St. John the Baptist in New Brighton. Nelson and Stephanie Stokman belong to Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul. Marcie, who lives in Crosby, is Nelson’s mother and Stephanie’s mother-in-law. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

In choosing the books, many of which Marcie Stokman said are slipping off reading lists, she enlisted the help of University of St. Thomas professor Mary Reichardt, who has a Ph.D. in literature and authored eight books. Three of Stokman’s children, including Nelson, attended St. Thomas. At the conference, Reichardt presented on Bronte’s “Jane Eyre,” the book club’s February read, to more than 100 women — some with a baby in tow.

Lexy Backstrom was one of those women. With her mother-in-law, she and 9-month-old daughter Cora attended the conference to see what it was about. The conference provides background, context and promotion for the year’s books, and explains why the books were chosen. It also gives women a chance to meet participants from other Well-Read Mom clubs.

“I’ve actually been thinking I wanted to get involved in something after having a new baby,” said Backstrom, who attends St. Louis King of France in St. Paul. “Being a new mom, you kind of have to reconnect to different things, so I’m excited to learn about it and see if it’s something that would work for me.”

Marcie Stokman said the book clubs are for all women.

“In a sense, every woman is a mother,” she said. “Some people even follow [the clubs] on their own, but it’s meant to get together face to face. It’s a head start to grow in friendships. People have told me it has even helped their marriages.”

Miller, who attends Divine Mercy in Faribault and homeschools her six children, said finding the time to read is always an issue, but she cuts out distractions such as TV, and has found that nursing a baby is an opportune time to pick up a book.

“It’s a good time in my life to do it,” said Miller, who is pregnant with her seventh child. “Some of my children are older now, so it’s not quite the same as when you have everybody 5 and under. My kids are at the stage where they do need to see me reading, and we talked about literature together, so that opens up a whole new world.”

Marcie Stokman has one rule for the clubs: Don’t apologize if you haven’t read the book — just come and enjoy the environment.

“It doesn’t matter if you just go back and read three chapters [after attending a meeting],” she said. “Every woman finds some success.”

While the book list has a Catholic emphasis, Marcie said women with a different or absent faith life could benefit from being in a club. Three of the women in her group are Lutheran.

“It’s a veiled apostolate,” she said. “It’s wonderful to be with them, and them with us. The club exposes them to other books.”

Miller explained how her book club provides something more than the traditional Bible studies she has attended.

“[Literature] teaches so many lessons and values, and also causes you to inspect your own life in a way that is a little different than a Bible study,” she said. “So, reading about experiences of other women, other things that are bigger or broader than your own life, or even parallel that can help guide you in the spiritual life. You might not think of that as a book club goal, but it’s definitely been something that I’ve noticed happening.”

According to Stephanie Stokman, The Well-Read Mom hopes to produce a printed quarterly publication, and might look into podcasts. But she reiterates that face-to-face groups are the most valuable.

“We really want to emphasize the togetherness and making a space for it in our lives,” she said.

In addition to the website, women can connect with The Well-Read Mom on Facebook: facebook.com/thewellreadmom.

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Category: Faith and Culture, Featured

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