Books, faith, friendship and a ‘Well-Read Mom’
“Well-Read Mom” is the brainchild of Marcie Stokman, a mother of seven and an RN with a master’s in psychology.
It’s a site committed to helping women take care of their hearts by reclaiming time for books and friendship, preferably in a group setting.
“Read More. Read Well” runs the site’s tagline. The intro text reads: “It can be a challenge to make time to read in a world that never stops. Developing and maintaining the ability for deep reading isn’t something we can take for granted. Millions of Americans won’t read a single book this year. You won’t be one of them.
It all started around 1986 when Marcie was a new mother.
“My husband and I had moved to a new city, we didn’t know anyone, he was in school and working and I was home with this colicky baby. I didn’t know one other mom. It was such a new experience. An extremely lonely experience.”
She and her husband went to Guatemala several times on mission trips. One day Marcie followed the local women down to the stream where they were doing laundry on a rock.
“They were laughing and singing and I realized, ‘I have a Maytag but I have a different kind of poverty. I have a poverty of community.’ ”
Fast forward to 2012. Marcie’s daughter, Beth, had just had her first child.
She called one day and said, “Mom, I’ve been three times to this mothers’ group and all they talk about is what kind of diaper to buy. Isn’t there a place to go and talk about the real questions of life?”
Says Marcie, “When your kid’s heart hurts, your heart hurts. I recognized that same loneliness I’d had. I thought, ‘Oh no, not another generation!’ ”
Meanwhile, she was giving talks around her area in rural Minnesota. Some of the women to whom she spoke were Protestant; others, like Marcie, were Catholic.
One talk, she thought, “Let me ask what they’re reading. Turned out no one was reading quality literature and neither was I.”
Marcie had home-schooled her seven children and even started a cooperative academy, St. Joseph’s. “So that’s where I was really acquainted with good literature: ‘The Iliad,’ ‘The Odyssey,’ ‘The Aeneid,’ ‘The Confessions of St. Augustine.’ ”
She didn’t want to lay one more project on these busy mothers. But Beth’s desire for connection and Marcie’s desire for reading generated an idea. “Why don’t we commit to reading some good books together?” she suggested to her daughter. “You invite some friends and I’ll invite some of my friends.”
Her daughter-in-law said, “Well if we’re going to do something for women it should be beautiful.” So they designed a postcard. “Reading great and worthy books from the Western and Catholic tradition” was their first tagline.
The first group met in Marcie’s home. The discussion was lively. The project quickly took off — but how to organize it?
Marcie was reading Pope John Paul II’s “Letter to Women.”
“He was saying thank you to various groups of women: Thank you women who work who are daughters, who are mothers, who are contemplatives. He listed all these capacities that women have. That was my answer!”
She created a five-year book list, making stacks on her living room floor and organizing the reading around various capacities of women. They’ve read “The Year of the Worker” and “The Year of the Pilgrim.”
“The reading schedule has to work in a woman’s life, and with the routine and rhythm of the year. We read short stories during the holiday months. We have a spiritual classic during the Advent and Lenten seasons. It’s not a Catholic group per se, but we look at literature through the lens of what’s good, true, and beautiful.”
Janel Lewandowski, Marcie’s sister-in-law and the director of member relations, has been on board since the first meeting.
“We do have online groups but we encourage meeting in person, locally. Mostly through word of mouth, we now have groups in every state, as well as Canada, Italy, Kenya, Spain, Australia, and Ireland. We put together beautiful resources with quality writing, graphics, and artwork. We produce an annual reading companion and a monthly audio guide. With busy mothers in mind, it’s very plug-and-play.”
Since all the groups stay together in their reading, ensuring the availability of a sufficient number of books has become a work in itself.
They’ve brought titles back into print: Rumer Godden’s “In This House of Brede”; Servant of God Dorothy Day’s book on St. Thérèse of Lisieux, “Therese.”
A basic membership comes out to just over $4 a month. There’s only one rule: If you weren’t able to read or finish the book for any given month, don’t apologize, and come to the meeting anyway.
Notes Marcie: “It’s non-threatening. Women see the depth and the generosity. My own group has a range — agnostic, Lutheran, Catholic.”
“This one group member was waiting in line at the post office. She started chatting with another woman and invited her to the meeting. After the fifth time, the ‘new’ woman said, ‘Wait a minute, are you Catholic?’ She went around the room. ‘So practically everyone here is Catholic? Because I hate Catholics. But I like all of you.’ ”
Along with the group, that woman read books like Steinbeck’s “East of Eden” and Willa Cather’s “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” and Charles Dickens’ “Hard Times.”
Five years ago she came into the Church.