If Owen Meany is the reason that John Wheelright believes in God, I have to say that Owen is also the reason I got through the pandemic summer. My Cathedral Reads small group was a delightful collection of women, great readers all, who generously shared their insights and wisdom about A Prayer for Owen Meany, and life in general, each week. Some had read the book several times, and others were experiencing its richness chapter by chapter. We talked over an hour about each chapter, and I always came away thinking that many hours more would be necessary to really grasp all the details Irving packed into this dark, funny, moving and layered novel.
No matter what was happening in the news or at my house, I could count on this group and their perspective. I discovered many more layers of the book and of myself because of their conversation. Religion, sex, politics—we covered the waterfront in our discussions as Owen led us there with his full-frontal capitals. It was refreshing, sustaining, and enlightening conversation, providing just what a book club should.
Now it’s over, and I’m sad. I will miss my group and our routine. I will miss talking about Owen, and John, and Harriet and Hester. All summer I’ve been looking for armadillos, and I wonder if I’ll see them as frequently now. And there is the question of what to read next.
Yes, I have groaning stacks of books at home, and many more at the Bookstore should I ever run out. I’ve already started some of them, and they are commendable. But reading with others—others with different experiences and ideas and perspectives—seems so much more important now than just reading alone. Zooming for pleasure with the loose agenda of a great book is so different than a Zoom meeting. Anticipating a stimulating hour of good fellowship and conversation held back the dread of the sameness of the days all summer long.
Thank goodness the Dean’s Book Club is starting up again for Fall. If you, too, are looking for your next great read and a group to share it, look no further. September will provide a last deep dive into Owen Meany. October’s choice is S.C. Gwynne’s Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War; November, the Cathedral’s own Kate Murphy’s You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters; and December the venerable Catherine Meeks’ Living Into God’s Dream: Dismantling Racism in America. All this non-fiction will be particularly interesting after having been steeped in Irving’s perspective on America all summer. I’m looking forward not only to gleaning new insights from these books, but also to sharing them with good readers.
To encourage you to support the Cathedral with your book-buying habits, The Cathedral Bookstore is offering a 10% discount on all the Dean’s Book Club titles from now until the meeting when the book is featured. However you choose to procure these titles, I hope we’ll get the chance to discuss them at some point this fall. As Owen so wisely told John “READING IS A GIFT,” and reading with friends is an even sweeter pleasure.
Love of books is the best of all.