Books bring Catholic men together

| November 16, 2015 | 2 Comments
Catholic men discuss mainly classics during a mentally meeting of the Misfits men's book club in Stillwater, MN. Bob Zyskowski/The Catholic Spirit

Catholic men discuss mainly classics during a mentally meeting of the Misfits men’s book club in Stillwater, MN. Bob Zyskowski/The Catholic Spirit

On a soggy November evening, 14 Catholic men sloshed their way to a taproom in Stillwater, shook off the rain, grabbed a craft beer and headed up to the mezzanine to talk about “A Tale of Two Cities.”

At least at the start they did.

For the Misfits — a men’s book club that has been meeting for 13 years — discussing fiction is simply the launch point for conversation about, well, about anything.

After reading about the bloody slaughter of the French Revolution that Charles Dickens used as the basis in his classic 1859 novel, some of the group couldn’t help but make a modern-day connection.

“The atmosphere reminded me of ‘The Walking Dead,’ ” said Mark Druffner, a physician.

Joe McGrath, a retired chemist, added, “Its got its 20th century counterpart in the civil war in Rwanda — and in ISIS, with the beheading.”

The Misfits — named for a character in Flanney O’Conneor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” — brought all different versions of the book to the monthly session: hard covers, e-readers, paperbacks well-cared for, others thumbed through with bent covers, and even a library book.

The Misfits — named for a character in Flanney O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” — brought all different versions of the book to the monthly session: hard covers, e-readers, paperbacks well-cared for, others thumbed through with bent covers, and even a library book.

Buzz Kriesel, whose prior life as U.S. Army special forces colonel sneaks into his leadership of the book club, noted the memorable, iconic phrases at both the beginning and end of the novel:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” at the beginning, and “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done” at the end.

Thomas Loome, a retired theologian and bookseller, picked up on the latter line.

He sensed that Dickens portrayal of a man who gives up his life for another was written “that we might see Christ better.” The character (spoiler alert!) who switches places with the condemned man is held up for readers’ admiration, Loome said. He’s the image of Christ, even to the extent of being followed by a crowd on the way to his execution “in an overtly Christian way,” Loome added. “I was not prepared for that.”

The Misfits — named for a character in Flanney O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” — brought all different versions of the book to the monthly session: hard covers, e-readers, paperbacks well-cared for, others thumbed through with bent covers, and even a library book. Meeting at the Maple Island Brewing taproom was a first for the group; they usually meet in the St. Thomas More Library up the hill in Stillwater at St. Michael Church.

They came at “A Tale of Two Cities” from various perspectives, too. Some questioned the significance of some of the lesser characters, how some Dickens had drawn in detail and others were very one dimensional.

The book first appeared in serial form as chapters in the newspaper, banker Scott Wagner reminded: “People who wouldn’t normally read history read it because it was a novel and Dickens was such a good writer.” The literary device of ending a chapter leaving the newspaper reader in suspense was like a modern television drama’s close, Wagner quipped, “Stay tuned for a message from our sponsor.”

It wasn’t to be the last of the interjections that brought laughter to the book club meeting.

The taproom atmosphere must have been behind the suggestion for a new craft beer named after Madame LeFarge, a bloodthirsty leader of the guillotine-loving mob in “A Tale of Two Cities.” It would have to be a red beer, one wag tossed out, “And there’s no head on it!” joked McGrath, busting up the crowd.

Opinions not always the same

John Leonard, an attorney, pointed out the contrast that British Dickens draws between the justice of London and the brutal, gory injustice of Paris. “You do pick up a nationalistic tone,” Leonard said, but another lawyer and history buff, Carl Blondin, noted, “The English like to forget their own revolution . . . they were as bad.”

Leonard also voiced a comment from his wife. “She said, ‘Dickens doesn’t do women well,’ ” which brought about the general agreement that, at least in “A Tale of Two Cities,” female characters are very one dimensional.

Mark Druffner, a physician, chipped in, “If I were a writer, I wouldn’t write about women well either. I think women have a certain perspective of the world I don’t have.”

Blondin generalized, “It’s hard for the majority culture to write about the minority,” to which Druffner added, “Either that or women are more insightful than men.”

Sitting in an uneven circle around four tables pushed together, the men tossed out their personal analyses, that they got a good feel for the times of the French Revolution, that the collapse of all of society was depressing to read, that Dickens showed his lack of understanding of Catholic culture.

They chewed over the contrast between the revolution in France and the revolution that resulted in the founding of the United States, even though both occurred in relatively the same time period late in the 18th century.

While differences of opinion were expressed, particularly when a bit of American nationalism popped into the discussion, the conversation never got heated, with men willing to share their knowledge and willing to listen and learn from others as well.

Some of the group are self-taught history buffs, but all have a common base in knowledge about their faith, one gained by taking a year-long course on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The 48, 90-minutes classes were led by Loome, who taught theology at the then-College of St. Catherine before opening a bookstore in Stillwater.

Loome and Kriesel shared the credit for deciding that the book club would read fiction. “Apologetics puts me to sleep,” Kriesel said. “We read literature because it’s exciting and timeless. It’s transformative. It gives you insights into man’s condition that are remarkable.”

Wisdom found in the group

Brad Lindberg, a teacher, said, “I’ve been exposed to books I wouldn’t otherwise have read,” and the group tossed out the titles of some of their favorites: “Sword of Honour,” the trilogy by Evelyn Waugh; “A Postcard from the Volcano” by Lucy Beckett, and “Kristin Lavransdatter” by Sigrid Undset.

Titles like “Silence” by Shusako Endo and “The Ballad of the White Horse” by G.K. Chesterton were also mentioned. (See complete list of all the books the club has discussed here.)

The fellowship their meeting offers, however, is as important to the Misfits as all they’ve gained from the classics they’ve read and discussed over the past 13 years.

Druffner suspected that there aren’t many men’s groups that meet in as intimate a way as the Misfits. “The group challenges us to talk about and think about things going on inside that we normally don’t,” Druffner said.

McGrath said he appreciates being about to talk about spiritual, ethical and moral things, “and getting insight from the group.”

Wagner explained, “These books have shown us how broad and diverse the Catholic Church is. Look at this group, all the different professions contained here. The greatest benefit is our getting together as Catholics exploring the richness of our faith.”

Artist Nick Markell found that richness in the “communal dimension” of the men’s book club.

“Wisdom,” Markell said, “comes through the community.”

 

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  • Elizabeth McBride

    Interesting. You don’t hear often about book clubs for men. All the book clubs I have belonged to are for women although I did belong to one years ago that had a lone male member. I would have liked to have seen the list of books this group has read but you need a user name and password to access the list.

    • Larry M

      Classics dominate the reading list of the Misfits, a Catholic men’s book club. Bob Zyskowski/The Catholic Spirit

      The Misfits, a Catholic men’s book club in Stillwater, Minnesota, has met monthly for 13 years. (See companion story here. Here’s a list of the titles they’ve read:

      September, 2002

      Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

      October, 2002

      Silence by Shusako Endo

      November, 2002

      The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

      December, 2002

      A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Conner

      January, 2003

      The Ball and the Cross by G. K. Chesterton

      February, 2003

      Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

      March, 2003

      Morte D’Urban by J.F. Powers

      April, 2003

      The Innocence of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton

      May, 2003

      The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

      June, 2003

      The Woman of the Pharisees by Francois Mauriac

      July, 2003

      The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos

      August, 2003

      Misfits Summer Recess: No Book Meeting

      September, 2003

      The Brother’s Karamazov (Part I) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

      October, 2003

      The Brother’s Karamazov (Part II) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

      November, 2003

      The Brother’s Karamazov (Part III) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

      December, 2003

      The Brother’s Karamazov (Part IV) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

      January, 2004

      Father Elijah by Michael D. O’Brien

      February, 2004

      The Ballad of the White Horse and Lepanto by G. K. Chesterton

      March, 2004

      Men at Arms by Evelyn Waugh

      April, 2004

      Officers and Gentlemen by Evelyn Waugh

      May, 2004

      Unconditional Surrender by Evelyn Waugh

      June-August 2004

      Misfits Summer Recess: No Book Meeting

      September, 2004

      The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

      October, 2004

      Joan of Arc by Mark Twain

      November, 2004

      The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

      December, 2004

      Lord of the World by Fr. Robert Hugh Benson

      January, 2005

      Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

      February, 2005

      The Keys of the Kingdom by A. J. Cronin

      March, 2005

      The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton

      April, 2005

      Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

      May, 2005

      Kristin Lavransdatter I: The Wreath by Sigrid Undset

      June- July, 2005

      Misfits Summer Recess: No Book Meeting

      August, 2005

      Kristin Lavransdatter II: The Wife by Sigrid Undset

      September, 2005

      Kristin Lavransdatter III: The Cross by Sigrid Undset

      October, 2005

      Mr. Blue by Myles Connolly

      November, 2005

      Helena by Evelyn Waug

      December, 2005

      In This House of Brede by Rumor Godden

      January, 2006

      Viper’s Tangle by Francois Mauriac

      February, 2006

      The Cypresses Believe in God (Part I) by Jose Maria Gironella

      March, 2006

      The Cypresses Believe in God (Part II) by Jose Maria Gironella

      April, 2006

      The Cypresses Believe in God (Part III) by Jose Maria Gironella

      May, 2006

      The Cypresses Believe in God (Part IV) by Jose Maria Gironella

      June, 2006

      The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

      July, 2006

      One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

      August, 2006

      Utopia by Sir Thomas More

      September, 2006

      The Silver Chalice by Thomas B. Costain

      October, 2006

      The Silver Chalice by Thomas B. Costain (Continued)

      November, 2006

      The Spear by Louis de Wohl

      December, 2006

      The Citadel by A. J. Cronin.

      January, 2007

      Memento Mori by Murial Spark

      February, 2007

      The Thanatose Syndrome by Walker Percy

      March, 2007

      A Burnt-out Case by Graham Greene

      April, 2007

      Edmund Campion by Evelyn Waugh

      May, 2007

      Saint Thomas Aquinas by G.K. Chesterton

      June/July, 2007

      Saint Francis of Assisi by G. K. Chesterton

      August,/September, 2007

      The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie

      October, 2007

      Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hanson

      November, 2007

      The Life of St. Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd

      December, 2007

      Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Conner

      January, 2008

      The Master of Hestviken: The Axe (Volume One) by Sigred Undset

      February, 2008

      The Master of Hestviken: The Snake Pit (Volume Two) by Sigred Undset

      March, 2008

      The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness (Volume Three) by Sigred Undset

      April, 2008

      The Master of Hestviken: The Son Avenger (Volume Four) by Sigred Undset

      May, 2008

      Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

      June, 2008

      Annual Chesterton Conference (June 12-14, 2008)

      July, 2008

      Lord of the Flies by William Golding

      August, 2008

      Catholics by Brian Moore

      September, 2008

      Exiles by Ron Hanson

      October, 2008

      The Four Men: A Farrago by Hilaire Belloc

      November, 2008

      The Issa Valley by Czeslaw Milosz

      December, 2008

      A Commentary on the Sonnets of G. M. Hopkins by Father Peter Milward, S.J.

      January, 2009

      The Viaduct Murders by Fr. Ronald A. Knox

      February, 2009

      The Heart of the Matter by Graham Green

      March, 2009

      The Samurai by Shusako Endo

      April, 2009

      The Way of A Pilgrim by Anonymous

      May, 2009

      The Devil’s Advocate by Morris West

      June, 2009

      Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

      July, 2009

      The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis

      August, 2009

      The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green

      September, 2009

      The Death of a Pope by Piers Paul Read

      October, 2009

      Manalive by G. K. Chesterton

      November, 2009

      The Stripping of the Altars (Part 1) by Eamon Duffy

      December, 2009

      The Stripping of the Altars (Part 2) by Eamon Duffy

      January, 2010

      The Stripping of the Altars (Part 3) by Eamon Duffy

      February, 2010

      Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C. S. Lewis

      March, 2010

      Dear James by Jon Hassler

      April, 2010

      Murder in the Cathedral by T. S. Eliot

      May, 2010

      The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

      June, 2010

      The Great Short Works of Leo Tolstoy by Leo Tolstoy

      July, 2010

      The Great Short Works of Fyodor Dostoevsky by Fyodor Dostoevsky

      August, 2010

      The Prudence of the Flesh by Ralph McInerny

      September, 2010

      The Black Robes by Brian Moore

      October, 2010

      Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

      November, 2010

      Dimiter by William Blatty

      December, 2010

      A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

      January, 2011

      Loss and Gain by Blessed John Henry Newman

      February, 2011

      Unnatural Death by Dorothy Sayers

      March, 2011

      Dracula by Bram Stoker

      April, 2011

      The Divine Comedy: Hell by Dante Alighieri

      May, 2011

      The Divine Comedy: Hell (Cont.) by Dante Alighieri

      June, 2011

      The Divine Comedy: Purgatory by Dante Alighieri

      July, 2011

      The Divine Comedy: Purgatory (Cont.) by Dante Alighieri

      August, 2011

      The Divine Comedy: Paradise by Dante Alighieri

      September, 2011

      The Divine Comedy: Paradise (Cont.) by Dante Alighieri

      October, 2011

      Poor Banished Children by Maria De Fiorella

      November, 2011

      A World Lost by Wendell Berry

      December, 2011

      My Antonia by Willa Cather

      January, 2012

      A Canticle for Leibowitz by William M. Miller, Jr.

      February-March 2012

      A Postcard from the Volcano by Lucy Beckett

      April, 2012

      He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter J. Ciszek, S.J.

      May, 2012

      The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

      June, 2012

      The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare

      July, 2012

      Summer Break

      August, 2012

      Summer Break

      September, 2012

      The Time Before You Die by Lucy Beckett

      October, 2012

      The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love and Terror in Algeria, by John W. Kiser

      November, 2012

      Fabiola or The Church of the Catacombs (Part I) by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman

      December, 2012

      Fabiola or The Church of the Catacombs (Part II) by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman

      January, 2013

      The Confessions (Books I-VII) by St. Augustine of Hippo

      February, 2013

      The Confessions (Books VII-XIII) by St. Augustine of Hippo

      March, 2013

      Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

      April, 2013

      The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest by Father John Gerard, SJ

      May, 2013

      The Path to Rome by Hillaire Belloc

      June-August, 2013

      Summer Break

      September, 2013

      Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy

      October, 2013

      All Hallows’ Eve by Charles Williams

      November, 2013

      King Lear by Williams Shakespeare

      December, 2013

      Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis

      January, 2014

      Perelandra by C. S. Lewis

      February, 2014

      That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis

      March, 2014

      Callista by John Henry Newman

      April, 2014

      Charming Billy by Alice McDermott

      May, 2014

      Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams

      June, 2014

      A Midsummer’s Nights Dream by William Shakespeare

      July, 2014

      The Father’s Tale (Part I) by Michael O’Brien

      August, 2014

      The Father’s Tale (Part II) by Michael O’Brien

      September, 2014

      The Leaves are Falling by Lucy Beckett

      October, 2014

      In the First Circle (Part I) by Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn

      November, 2014

      In the First Circle (Part II) by Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn

      December, 2014

      Mr. Ives Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

      January, 2015

      The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy

      February, 2015

      Waiting for God by Simone Weil

      March, 2015

      In the Light of Christ by Lucy Beckett

      April, 2015

      In the Light of Christ (Continued)

      May, 2015

      In the Light of Christ (Continued)

      June, 2015

      Macbeth by William Shakespeare

      July, 2015

      In the Light of Christ (Concluded)

      August, 2015

      The Stream & The Sapphire by Denise Levertov

      September, 2015

      A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

      October, 2015

      A Tale of Two Cities (Books One and Two) by Charles Dickens

      November, 2015

      A Tale of Two Cities (Book Three) by Charles Dickens

      December, 2015

      Unless You Become Like This Child by Hans Urs von Balthasar

      “Journey of the Magi” a poem by T. S. Eliot

      January, 2016

      Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

      February, 2016

      The Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton

      March, 2016

      Letters of Flannery O’Conner: The Habit of Being by Flannery O’Conner

      April, 2016

      The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

      May, 2016

      The Quiet American by Graham Greene