Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Starting a book club on too little sleep {why I love Well-Read Mom}

A few years ago, when I was a chronically sleep-deprived mother of a preschooler and toddler twins, I decided to start a chapter of Well-Read Mom in my living room.

It seems like a questionable decision brought on by too few hours of consecutive sleep (not unlike when I put the ketchup bottle in the dishwasher or when I machine washed and dried my favorite wool sweater). According to lots of people who know me (and everyone doesn't know me but sees me at Costco), my hands are full. I don't have time to start a book club. Maybe, just maybe, I could join a book club that someone else started (probably not, though, because I wouldn’t have time to keep up with the reading).

That’s why I love Well-Read Mom.

Since Marcie Stokman and her team have done so much of the work of choosing the books, preparing great materials to foster understanding and support discussion, and even sending out monthly audio introductions to play at our meetings, I really just have to make some snacks, clean the bathroom, and open the door for everyone to come in.

I also have to read the books, of course…and I’m so glad I have a reason to do that.

Well-Read Mom only has one rule: you come even if you haven’t finished the book, and you don’t apologize. This isn’t a guilty book club that shames people if they got busy and couldn’t finish something. We have all been there. It can be a real challenge to fit our own reading into life with small children. What's the worst-case scenario, though? What if we don't finish The Odyssey or The Brothers Karamazov? Any amount of The Odyssey or The Brothers Karamazov that we read is more than we would have read otherwise. Any little bit of wisdom we glean from that book is more than we had before. The goal of the group is to read more and to read well…and that’s exactly what we’re doing, even if we only make it through a few pages.

(Even with this “no guilt” rule, I do push myself to finish the books. I feel extra responsibility as the host to support the discussion, and although I’m not normally a competitive person, knowing that one of my friends is finishing something does encourage me to try a little harder to finish, too.)

This group is my first real book club. My prior experience was limited to discussing Junior Great Books in the fourth grade, where we had to use popsicle sticks to keep track of how many times each person had spoken during the discussion.

(Our group doesn't incorporate that particular discussion strategy at our meetings.)

I’m not sure what I thought it would be like, but this group has completely exceeded any expectations I had. We are reading things that matter- books that have shaped our culture and our faith and our civilization. The conversations we have had over these books stretch us beyond the limits of what is in front of us. They put us in touch with the past and the future, with different cultures and eras in which women have struggled as mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends. Some of their struggles look a lot like ours. Some look very different.

Some of these fictional characters have become my mental companions. I think about them as I would friends- pondering what they’d do in a situation, or remembering something wise they have said. This definitely makes me a book nerd, but I've always been a book nerd. The nicest thing about being grown up with a book club is that I don’t have to apologize for that any more. My mental landscape is dotted with prairie sod houses and Russian tenements and hobbit holes and French Canadian villages and the people who occupy them. I’m so grateful to have found a little tribe of people who are also this way and who will talk with me about what we read together.

We don’t just talk about books, of course, but we do always talk about books. Amazingly, when you discuss great books over a long period of time with interesting people, you get to know the people as well as the books. Literature’s themes have always been life’s themes- love, suffering, loss, grief, community. Discussing these themes in characters’ lives broadens our view of them in our lives…and the intersection of life and literature is a great place to start or grow a friendship.

Before this group began meeting, if my husband had told me he would take our kids out one afternoon each month for two hours so I could do whatever I wanted, I would not have chosen “host a book club” as my number one option. I could sleep, or get a pedicure, or go for a run by myself, or eat ice cream on the porch, or any number of other things.

Today, though, book club is one of the high points of my month. Most of us knew each other when we began, but my Well-Read Mom buddies have become my closest friends. It takes commitment to read a great work of literature and discuss it, and we are committed to each other. Time is precious (and always feels in short supply), but I have never regretted the time spent reading and discussing a great book with these women.

Could a book club for moms change the world one reader at a time? I think that’s exactly what is happening. It’s not just a way to spend my limited free time. It is a way to improve my life. It makes me a better, more thoughtful person. When I’m a better, more thoughtful person, I am a better, more thoughtful mother, and my children can only benefit from that. I’m not sure that “better mothering through book clubs” is a thing yet, but if it’s not, it has to be on the rise, thanks in large part to Well-Read Mom.

By the way, this isn’t a sponsored post. I’m just sharing with you because I love my book club. I also love you. I also love the reading list for this coming year at Well-Read Mom (Tolstoy! Tolkien! Hawthorne! C.S. Lewis!). If you're thinking about joining but have questions, please feel free to ask. If you’re on the fence about registering, go for it…you can get free shipping on your membership materials if you use the coupon code justdoit through October 1.

I hope you join us. Even if you don't end up starting a book club, I'd love to chat with you about what you're reading this year. And if you find yourself mentally conversing with Hobbits while you saute the veggies for your chicken curry, you're in good company here. Kindred spirits.