Read More. Read Well. Together
Finding Wisdom, Wonder and Friendship in a World of Efficiency
by Marcie Stokman
–Review by Teri Hyrkas
Do you love to read a story about a successful venture , especially when the success was a complete surprise? If so, read on…
Well-Read Mom: Read More. Read Well Together — Finding Wisdom, Wonder and Friendship in a World of Efficiency, (2019, Riverplace Press) by Marcie Stokman, is a chronicle of the Well-Read Mom book club, a book discussion group that was fashioned with mothers of young children in mind. The journey of the Well-Read Mom book club started with the simple yet profound desire of Stokman to meet with other mothers for friendship and meaningful dialogue around books — particularly the classics of the Western and Christian traditions. As Stokman envisioned it, books would be chosen ahead of time and would center on a theme chosen for the ye
ar. The yearly theme would feature one of many roles that women take on in their lifetime: mother, sister, daughter, spouse, worker, etc. Stokman decided to act on her idea and with great trepidation mailed out twenty-two invitations to her friends and neighbors one fateful day in 2012.
From the time of that first book club meeting, when twenty-two women met in Stokman’s living room to discuss the short story, The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne, to today, Well-Read Mom has grown to almost two thousand members with clubs in nearly every state in the union. How? By word of mouth. There has been no advertising campaign or social media push for the book club. Stokman found that women with children had a particular desire to get together, as Stokman says, “in order to nurture our hearts and moral imaginations.” The purpose of the book club is explained by Stokman at Well-Read Mom’s website: “Our passion is to help women make space in their daily lives for reading and reflection and so we aim to create a place where they can come together to share what they are learning through their reading.”
The book, Well-Read Mom, is replete with Stokman’s humble, humorous, and often touching, anecdotes about the many struggles and joys that came with learning how to manage a book club that was experiencing tremendous growth. In a section called “Growing Pains,” Marcie tells how the unanticipated ballooning of membership produced challenges that were bewildering. She writes, “What a project! We had paper strewn all over the table and on every space we could find. I sat there perplexed and paralyzed, not knowing how to move ahead…” Soon, the task of establishing a website for the book club became a necessity. One day in her sister-in-law’s kitchen, Marcie realized that the book club had taken on a life of its own. Marcie said to her sister-in-law, Janel, that she thought Well-Read Mom was sinking under paperwork and she didn’t know if it could survive.
Writes Stokman, “Literally 5 minutes later, our friend Nadine stopped by to pick up her son, Max, from Janel’s house. She popped her head in the door to say hi and saw we were working on Well-Read Mom. “ ‘Say,’ [Nadine said] ‘if you ever need someone to help with the computer end of things, I could do that. That’s what I do.’ ” Stokman concludes “Growing Pains” with this note: “That night, I wrote in my journal, “ ‘Lord, you sent Nadine at the exact time we were sinking. Lord, I believe you are in the boat, and with you in this boat, it cannot sink! I don’t need to be afraid. I’m not carrying the load by myself. You are providing.’ ”
Despite the turbulent start, Well-Read Mom book clubs flourished. Why? Stokman offers this possibility: “I think it has something to do with following a unique format, prioritizing fun, and focusing on friendship.”
In addition to a yearly theme, the unique book club format offers guidelines that suggest the length of the meeting be limited to about one hour, with the option for attendees to stay and visit after the discussion is over. The format for the club also indicates that there is to be one leader per group. The leader is the only person who must become a member of the Well-Read Mom organization, although all attendees are encouraged to become members, also. In return for a small fee, members receive resource materials that enrich the book club’s conversations. The format of Well-Read Mom also suggests each club to listen to an audio introduction to the current book, and to use the questions provided to jump start the discussion. Additionally, there is a second audio recording designed to be used during the last ten minutes of the gathering which describes the book for the next month. Stokman writes, “The format allows us to keep pace with other women [in Well-Read Mom book clubs] across the country while at the same time growing deeper in friendship in our local communities…All this is different from any other book club that I am aware of.”
Stokman continues, “The friendship factor is a major component in Well-Read Moms groups…For many moms, surrounded by small children 24/7, the idea of going to someone’s house, … sipping hot tea and … and engaging in meaningful conversations sounds pretty fun. Especially when those conversations are sparked by wonderful stories [from the same] great book!”
Well-Read Mom contains not only the story of the successful emergence of a unique book club but Stokman includes a valuable section on why reading matters for women, and a further section presents practical tips for moms who want to know how to find time to read. Well-Read Mom closes with reflections on books read by women who have been part of the book club over the last eight years.
A satisfying and rewarding book, Well-Read Mom by Marcie Stokman encourages readers not only to grow in their personal reading life, but additionally, it may inspire women to start a Well-Read Mom book club in their local communities.
* I read Well-Read Mom in advance of publication. Riverplace Press stated that the print version of the book will be released in mid to late November, with an e-version to follow.