Maybe you’re a book nerd, or maybe you struggle to finish any book you pick up. Or maybe you fall into either camp but simply feel that you don’t have the time or accountability to read for leisure.
Meet Marcie Stokman, mother of seven, grandmother of 17, and the founder and president of the international book club Well-Read Mom. Marcie joined us for a conversation with her daughter, Margaret Nelson, a newlywed, mama-to-be, photographer and entrepreneur, to talk more about Well-Read Mom and the impact it has on the human person and the culture at large.
The importance of ‘deep reading’
Radiant: What inspired Well-Read Mom?
Marcie Stokman: I’ve always loved reading, but as more children came along, it was something that went by the wayside. It seemed like a luxury, and everything else took precedence over reading.
Then one day, I realized I had reached my limit and was burned out. I called up a friend and she said that as mothers, we have to take care of our hearts. Reading is one way that we can do this.
I think in our utilitarian efficiency society, we’ve lost an understanding of the value of literature and its ability to convey not just meaning, but a sense of truth about who we are and why we’re here.
Want more Radiant? Sign up for our weekly newsletter!
Radiant: Well-Read Mom supports women in reading more and reading well. Can you tell us more about why “deep reading” is so important?
Marcie: It’s not that we’re not reading. We’re reading all the time. We’re reading on our phones, reading on our laptops, we’re constantly scanning but not really focusing. When we deep read, we are receiving what the author has to say. We are using our imagination and our critical thinking skills. Exercising our imaginative muscles helps us to gain knowledge of who we are and who God created us to be.
Impacting lives and friendships
Radiant: Margaret, what did you think of Well-Read Mom when your mom first started it?
Margaret Nelson: At the time I was 13, and I didn’t think much of it. But what I did love was seeing my mom following her heart. Then, all of a sudden, things started exploding, and initially I started to resent it. But when I started to hear voicemails and see letters to my mom from people thanking her because of how profoundly impacted they had been, then I became fascinated.
Radiant: When did you start your own Well-Read Mom group?
Margaret: During my sophomore year of college. I had a desire to have deeper friendships that would continue beyond the four years of college. Adding another book to read while in college isn’t easy, but through it I started to discover more about my friends. We started discussing things beyond the bubble of our campus life. I learned about my friend’s lives before college, and about their families. My friendships grew so much!
Radiant: Well-Read Mom encourages women to grow intellectually, spiritually and personally. How do you create a booklist that helps to foster this growth?
Marcie: We started by reading the classics, including Dorothy Day’s “The Long Loneliness” and Sigrid Undset’s trilogy, “Kristin Lavransdatter.” Servant of God Dorothy Day has been a tremendous inspiration, and her daily prayer was that God would enlarge her heart. I could see how Day’s heart was enlarged through good literature, so I used her book recommendations as a start.
We also used John Paul II’s “Letter To Women” as inspiration. In his letter, he writes to women who are mothers, wives, daughters, workers, etc. Everyone is a daughter and a worker, so we decided to use those titles as we began our yearly themes.
Radiant: Margaret, how has reading with your mom and sisters impacted your relationships with them?
Margaret: It almost gives you a shortcut. It’s a common denominator. Our shared experience in Well-Read Mom helps us to express what we are learning about ourselves in our approach to our lives and our work. It helps us to call each other on in friendship and in virtue.
Literature and creativity
Radiant: Margaret, you are a very creative person. You are a photographer and the Founder of the pop-up plant shop, The Window Box. How has reading good literature impacted your creativity?
Margaret: I think it goes back to deep reading. When you get out of the busyness of checking your phone, scrolling and the immediacy of things, it really does open up your capacity to notice light. To notice the beauty in my home. It slows me down. I feel the most myself when I’m creative, and I’m not creative when I’m in fast forward mode. Just reading and simply entering into a story is a big gift for me to create and to notice things around me. Reading provides us with a bigger horizon.
Radiant: Marcie, what has been one of your favorite books on the Well-Read Mom list?
Marcie: My favorite book seems to be the one that we are reading. Each book helps me if I am open to it. But I was surprised by Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables.” It’s a book I wouldn’t have read on my own, but Jean Valjean’s conversion through his encounter with the bishop really had an impact on me. Valjean had to continue to forgive. It isn’t like we have our conversion and that’s the end of the story. In this book, Valjean is learning to love and chooses to love again and again. It awakened a desire in me to help me to grow. To love more.
Put away your phone and read
Radiant: Margaret, how would you encourage someone to start reading who doesn’t think they have the time?
Margaret: I think this is really simple. I really think you’ve got to put away your phone. We have way more time than we know. One woman in my group came to book club the same week that she had a baby, and she had read almost all of the book! If we put our phones away we will realize how much time we’re spending scrolling or doing whatever we do.
Also, don’t be afraid to propose reading with your friends. Even if people think it’s silly at first, it will be such a gift. I continue to be surprised by my friends in my book club who would say they never thought they were readers, and they are now the ones who are most helpful in our discussion.
Radiant: Marcie, is there anything else you’d like to share with Radiant readers?
Marcie: When I first started reading classics, I stumbled and could only read a couple paragraphs at a time. But because I persevered, because I swallowed my pride and went to the meetings not understanding things and kept a growth mindset, I can now tackle books. Don’t let yourself let yourself off the hook. You can do it. Start where you are, but do start.
It is very important that we read. It is very important for our culture. We help build civilization when we read. It’s not a small thing. Nobody can fail. The only way you can fail is if you don’t consistently try.
To find a Well-Read Mom book club near you, or start your own group, visit their website!