About two and a half years ago, after Sunday service, Stacy Ott and several other Faith Bible Church ladies were discussing their love for reading. While Christian books on spiritual growth topics are valuable reading, their shared love was for literature: fiction, drama, and poetry.
The ladies decided to form a book club, meeting at the Rocket Bakery to choose their first book, which Stacy recalls was Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. They adapted to Covid and social distancing by meeting in each other’s homes—with the added component of breakfast. Everyone needs a little eggs and bacon to go along with their Dickens and Shakespeare.
That may be why the group is still going strong, having covered classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Count of Monte Cristo as well as newer books like The Help. They just finished reading a play, The Importance of Being Earnest.
The current club includes Stacy, Christie Funchess, Kaitlyn Weber, Nicole Sturm, Wendy and Erin Dougherty, and Kelly Kondryzyn. They agree that the book club has added value and depth to their lives.
While book clubs can focus on any number of genres, this one chose to focus on literature. That word can mean any kind of writing, but Stacy shared a narrower definition of literature as “writing specifically to be considered an art form, especially prose fiction, drama, and poetry” (Wikipedia).
Good literature includes books that have or will “stand the test of time”—books that have enduring themes that go beyond specific time periods and that are written by masters of the craft.
The book club has already covered more than a dozen books, including Tom Jones, My Name is Asher Lev, The Old Ways, Hard Times, and The Story Girl. The ladies’ book club meets about every six weeks, a good time frame for everyone to finish the book.
Kaitlyn Weber says one of her favorite books was A Severe Mercy, an autobiography by Sheldon Vanauken. Nicole Sturm claimed Frankenstein as one of her favorites, saying their discussion of it was one of her favorite memories. It was a chilly October morning when they all gathered around a bonfire at Wendy Dougherty’s house, wrapped in blankets and sweatshirts, and sipping coffee to discuss the classic monster story.
Stacy suggests their book club may also be able to induce labor: Shortly after one meeting, Kelly Kondryzyn gave birth to her son Conner.
Stacy gave a few reasons why reading literature is beneficial for Christians. To start with, “The Bible is literature, and it has many forms of literature in it. When we are familiar with those forms of literature, not just in the Bible, but in other art works, we can read the Bible better.”
For example, studying poetry, and the form and structure of it, can help us understand the poetry of the Bible better. It helps recognize things such as imagery and chiasms, the “X-shaped” stanzas that appear throughout the Bible's poetical books. Seeing these features gives a deeper appreciation for the beauty of Scripture.
Another reason Christians should read literature, according to On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior, is that “Great books offer perspectives more than lessons. Literature shows us how a different character, situation, and event seems from different angles and perspectives, and even then how inexact our knowledge remains.”
Stacy explains that literature allows readers to experience others’ lives in ways that are otherwise impossible. Watching characters make decisions through their journey, you think about what you would do. And when you come together with a group, you’re able to discuss those choices. That’s something you wouldn’t do about friends or fellow believers, since that would be gossip.
The ladies feel many benefits of group discussion beyond just reading books. “Anything worth doing, we should do in community," Stacy says. “It helps to sanctify us.”
Stacy shared another quote from Memoria Press: “Literature, when thoughtfully read, carefully contemplated, and deeply discussed with wise peers, points us to what is truly miraculous in the most common experience of life.”
“Anything worth doing, we should do in community. It helps to sanctify us.”
Meeting in a group helps the ladies read deeper, knowing they‘re going to discuss the book. They can discuss things they didn't understand and listen to others’ perspectives on the book that may be different.
This helps us to be good listeners in general, to ask good questions, and to be kind and patient when we don’t agree with someone, Stacy says. These transferable skills can be used when we have to have hard conversations with people in real life.
Finally, literature can be used to address a variety of life topics. Stacy recommends Pride & Prejudice as a great book to talk about dating and marriage with teens. She also says Frankenstein is a great book for parenting discussions, since she often feels that she has created a monster she can’t control like Dr. Frankenstein.
A book club just needs a group of like-minded friends, a place to meet, and a book to read. In Stacy’s words, “Just do it!” If buying books seems like an obstacle, check the library, which usually has many copies of classics and other good books.
Commitment is important, Stacy says, so set dates and stick to them. Even if people don’t finish the book, they’re still welcome—they just might hear a few spoilers.
Starting a book club with your family is another option: “The Read-Aloud Revival,” by Sarah Mackenzie, is a good resource with a podcast and great ideas for family book clubs (www.readaloudrevival.com).
Overall, the ladies agree that their book club has led to deeper relationships with one another and deeper thinking about the topics in the books they’ve read.
“When you talk at church about everyday life, it’s so easy to stay shallow, not because you want to, but because you don’t always have time to go deeper into the nitty-gritty,” Stacy says. “But when we unhurriedly get together around food and talk about great themes that literature provides us, you really get to know each other and share life that you wouldn’t have known about people otherwise.”