Well-Read Mom book groups stimulate deep-thinking readers

As a Well-Read Mom for 10 years, Laura Ringsmuth has tackled more than 90 pieces of classic literature — novels, plays, poems, short stories, biographies and more — that she might not otherwise have read.

“Our Well-Read Mom group is one of the most enjoyable parts of my life. The books we’ve read have enhanced our friendship and made us closer,” Ringsmuth said. “We have amazing open discussions on challenging issues and books that we mightn’t otherwise have tried. Some may vehemently dislike one book while others love it — it’s where you are in your life.

Laura Ringsmuth, a Well-Read Mom for 10 years, has appreciated the depth and breadth of literature her group has discussed. (photo by Dianne Towalski)

“Because of Well-Read Mom, we’ve grown in our reading practices. Before, ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ was too daunting to try by myself, but now we’ve read at least two by [Fyodor] Dostoyevsky.”

“To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Anne of Green Gables,” “The Picture of Dorian Gray, “A Raisin in the Sun” and the “Rule of St. Benedict” are among titles the groups have studied.

“After discussing poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, our group searched out more of his work,” said Laura, a parishioner of the All Called to Christ Area Catholic Community in St. Cloud.  “And Flannery O’Connor’s short stories are great to discuss.”

Her favorite is Sigrid Undset’s trilogy, “Kristin Lavransdatter,” which her group has read twice. “I got so interested that now I’m starting another Undset four-volume series on my own,” Ringsmuth said. Undset was a Norwegian-Danish novelist, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928.

One goal of Well-Read Mom is “to provide literature through the lens of Catholic tradition.” Spiritual classics have included Dorothy Day’s “The Long Loneliness,” “The Wisdom of St. Frances de Sales” and the lives of Julian of Norwich, St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Jane de Chantal.

Ringsmuth is the leader for her group of 10, opening the monthly meeting with a short audio introduction from Well-Read Mom, using their leader guide and reading companion with discussion questions if the group needs it.

“Everybody pitches in,” she said.  “The website has lots of good information — anyone could start a group.”

Years ago, when Marcie Stokman of Crosby, Minnesota, needed high-quality books, she discovered that classic literature had fallen out of favor. In 2012 she founded Well-Read Mom. Janel Levandowski serves as its director of member relations.

“Our goal this year is 6,000 members and 600 groups,” Levandowski said. “We’re in all 50 states and five countries — and growing about 50 percent a year. We welcome women of all faith traditions.”

 If you go …

What: Well-Read Mom National Conference, “Everything is Gift: Growing in Goodness, Truth and Beauty”
When: Oct. 14-15
Where: Trinity High School, 601 River Ridge Parkway, Eagan, Minnesota; rooms reserved at OMNI Hotel
Cost: $125; non-members welcome
For more information and to register, visit: WellReadMom.com/conference

Membership is $49.95 per year and includes “all the resources you need to make the most of your reading,” she said. Women can host new groups, join existing open groups or read with a friend or on their own. Books are available at libraries or through retailers.

“Every summer we produce a full color 36-page magazine which wraps up the past year and introduces the upcoming theme,” Levandowski said. “It includes articles, reflections from our members and information about membership. Summer reads are not an official part of our program but members appreciate others’ recommendations.”

Hosting an annual conference

Well-Read Mom hosts an annual conference focusing on classic literature, this year on Oct. 14-15 in Eagan, Minnesota. Besides nationally-known keynote speakers, it features a piano performance and breakout sessions on sharing good books with children, hospitality and seeing the other as a gift, and using a reading journal to go deeper. The cost is $125. (See box.)

Ringsmuth has attended every conference, valuing the connections with those excited about reading the same books.

“There’s time to interact with other readers at receptions and time to shop for books and unusual handmade gifts,” Levandowski said. “Plus, you don’t have to be a member to attend. Many women join or start groups after being inspired at the conference.”

Levandowski said, “It’s never too late to start a group, even in the spring, even if you can only read four books a year. Success is different for each woman. Remember, deep reading is really a muscle, and you need to exercise to become a deep thinker. Be patient.”

Author: Nikki Rajala

Nikki Rajala is a writer/copy editor for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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