“Do you want to join a Well Read Mom book club?” I tilted my head and looked at my friend confusedly. “A Well Read Mom group? But we aren’t moms or even married yet.” Over the next few minutes my friend explained to me what Well Read Mom was and how she wanted to start a group with our friends and maybe we could call ourselves the Well Read Ladies. Having recently graduated I was craving something to keep me engaged intellectually and with our group starting our first year in the Year of the Friend, I couldn’t think of a better time to begin.
Our initial group began with a small number, many of us recent college graduates. Our states in life were varied: some single, a couple of us newly married and even a few pregnant. Over the course of our few years together, women in our group have given birth to children and some have moved away; yet we continue to journey on, our group evolving with time.
One of the first books we read during the Year of the Friend was a book by American Novelist, Anthony Doerr. I had never heard of this author before and as I flipped through the pages of this New York Times bestseller I soaked up his poetic writing each time I flipped through the pages and was careful not to miss any ounce of beauty. I was gripped by the stories in this book about a young German boy and blind French girl who fought for their lives during World War II.
When we started our group, I expected I’d receive joy from discussing great literature among good friends. What I didn’t expect was that I would get protective and defensive over authors like Doerr when others in my group didn’t love his work as much as I did. It is probably fair to say that I didn’t realize how much I loved Anthony Doerr’s writing style until the desire rose up in me to defend him. These discussions were always held in charity, and in fact, contributed to my love of Well Read Mom even more. I loved that I could read alongside my friends, and when we met as a group I could learn about each woman’s unique perspective on the world and interpretation of the story.
After the Year of the Friend we launched in to the Year of the Pilgrim. The books we read and the conversations we had in our group continued to form me not only intellectually, but also spiritually. As Well Read Mom Founder, Marcie Stokman, has said, “Literature helps form moral truth.” Reading about Dorothy Day for the first time in On Pilgrimage and getting to see her life of simplicity, poverty and selflessness called me on to a life of greater virtue. This calling was further solidified in the first one-hundred pages or so of the last book of the year: Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, in particular, the character of Bishop Myriel. His warmth, hospitality and mercy reminded me so much of God the Father. When he meets Jean Valjean, he welcomes him into this home and says, “this house is not mine, but Christ’s…this is more your home than mine. Everything in it is yours. Why should I ask your name? In any case I knew it before you told me…Your name is brother.” The Bishop’s sister talks about how he dined with Jean Valjean just as he would do with a parish priest. Through Bishop Myriel’s great love and magnanimous spirit he showed Valjean that he now belonged to what was good.
My Well Read Mom group helps me to focus on what is good, on who is Good. During this seventh year of Well Read Mom, and the third year for the group I am in, I am confident that our year’s booklist during the Year of the Contemplative will encourage our pursuit of greatness of soul. St. Alphonsus Liguori said “A single bad book will be sufficient to cause the destruction of an entire monastery.” Being part of a Well Read Mom group has shown me what a single good book can do for a community.
Susanna Parent serves as Evangelization Manager for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in the Office of Evangelization. She is a recent graduate of the Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry program with the School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas. When she’s not reading and writing you can find her enjoying life with her husband, brewing French press coffee in her kitchen, reading wine labels with friends in an effort to discover the perfect Pinot Noir and blogging about her travel adventures. You can learn more about her here.