7 characteristics of a successful reading group

reading group

I recently wrote a feature piece for Our Sunday Visitor newspaper about my experiences co-founding and helping lead a men’s reading group for over 16 years. While the group is Catholic—and thus reads and discusses books that are Catholic in fact or sensibility—I think the seven points are helpful for a wide range of reading groups. Here’s the start of the essay:

The group, bearing the ambitious moniker “The Neo-Inklings,” first met in the spring of 2004 at a local brew pub, invited there by myself and Anthony (Tony) Clark. The inspiration for the men’s reading group came from Tony, who at the time was working to finish his doctorate in Chinese history at the University of Oregon.

Tony and I had met a few weeks earlier after Divine Liturgy at the local Ukrainian Catholic parish, and we quickly discovered that our shared love for the Catholic faith also extended to reading and good books. “I need a couple of hours each month,” Tony said, “when I can be with men who share the same interests as I do, and we are able to freely discuss Catholic books and the Catholic faith.”

The plan was simple: invite some other men to join us to discuss a book chosen beforehand. In hindsight, after nearly 200 meetings, it’s a minor miracle it worked. So much could have gone wrong; so much should have gone wrong. But we quickly discovered a truth that G.K. Chesterton expressed so well back in a 1904 essay on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: “The sincere love of books has nothing to do with cleverness or stupidity any more than any other sincere love. It is a quality of character, a freshness, a power of pleasure, a power of faith.”

Love of books is obviously necessary for a book club, of course, but there are other important qualities, including good character, a love of truth and a commitment to faith. A book group that lasts for many years and consistently includes edifying insights and challenging discussions is a bit like a good marriage: It requires purpose, devotion, honesty, patience and, yes, sometimes forgiveness.

Read the entire essay over on the OSV site.