The We the People Book Club is a program designed with the intention of giving you an opportunity to strengthen your vision of democracy and your connections with others. It allows you to contemplate America's past and possibilities as presented by classic and contemporary literary voices.
This book club is being offered by The Practicing Democracy Project, a collaboration between The Center for Spirituality & Practice and the Fetzer Institute. It affirms two principles. First, reading itself is a spiritual practice. It requires inner work of quiet and stillness, attention to detail, and empathy as we imagine lives other than our own and root for characters to resolve their struggles.
Second, when this inner work inspires engagement with our neighbors and communities — as happens in book clubs — it becomes deeply democratic. Book club members passionately share responses to a text. Connections are forged, consensus arises, differences are respected, and unity is built as each person has a chance to speak and be heard. We hope that you will have a chance to share these books and readings with your friends and family.
We the People explores novels, short stories, poetry, and essays. Through engaging narratives, humor, cultural criticism, and spiritual wisdom, these selections show democracy failing and succeeding and implicitly urge us as readers to keep alive what American author John Steinbeck called that “stumbling-forward ache.”
This book club program can be scheduled at a pace that you choose. For example, when it was first offered in 2018-19, participants received emails on a once-a-week basis, and this was the schedule:
September - The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
October - The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
November - A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor
December - Selected Poems of Walt Whitman and Maya Angelou
January - Tenth of December by George Saunders
February - Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
March - Puddnhead Wilson by Mark Twain
April - The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
May - Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
June - The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
July - The Partly-Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell
August - Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Download a pdf of these selections for reference or to share.
The selections chronicle the last century of American thought and explore the following themes.
Tensions Vital to Our Collective Life: individualism and communalism, difference and unity, conformity and resistance, materialism and higher purpose, outsiders and insiders, law and justice
Our Shared Shadow: anger, violence, fear of strangers, rigid thinking, materialism, racism
Spiritual Values: resilience, compassion, hospitality, freedom, equality, kindness, civility
How It Works:
You can participate in two ways:
1. Sign up to be in the We the People Book Club Practice Circle: At a pace you choose, you will receive emails with discussion questions for personal inquiry or conversation with friends. Each email will cover roughly one-quarter of a book's content. This option allows for an in-depth, progressive study of each text and gives you ideas for related spiritual practices and material for further exploration inspired by the reading. Because the material is intensive, we recommend that you schedule a pace of one email per week in order to be able to keep up. We expect this to be a dynamic experience, intellectually and spiritually.
Spirituality & Practice is hosting this book club. We are charging $24 for the year ($2 per selection) to cover the costs of the emails and technical help. To register and to schedule your emails, use the "Subscribe" button below.
2. Download a Reading Guide: For those who would like to follow along on their own or with their own book club, reading guides will be available on the first of each month. These guides will include short introductions to the author(s) and the month's selection plus discussion questions to reflect back holistically on your reading experiences. The guides will also include links that expand on the concerns of the book, spiritual practice ideas, and resources for getting involved in your community in ways inspired by the book. You can download the Reading Guides on this page.
We will also be offering four- to five-week e-courses on each book individually. Here are the ones completed so far:
You can find copies of the books at your local bookstore, at online booksellers, or through the public library, using interlibrary loan if they are not on the shelves.
Your guide for this exploration is Julia (Julie) Davis, who was a 2018 - 2019 fellow with The Practicing Democracy Project. Julia holds an M.A. and C.Phil. in English and American Literatures and Cultures from Brown University and a B.A. in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara. When she created this program, she was pursuing her Master of Divinity at Claremont School of Theology with a focus on Interfaith Chaplaincy. Her interest in chaplaincy grew out of her 17 years experience teaching American literature at the college and high school level. Julia is passionate about the intersection of spiritual practices and social change.
(choose your own start date and frequency)