Strengthening Our Vision of Democracy: The We the People Book Club
Participation in the [We the] People Book Club has challenged me to face some of my own biases and pre-conceived ideas. I am grateful for the opportunity to explore and consider different viewpoints.
—We the People Book Club participant
As the yearlong We the People Book Club (WTP) came to a close in August, we asked WTP curator Julie Davis to reflect on the experience. “To get (back) the democracy we want, the democracy that we were promised, we have to both resist and take care of ourselves,” she wrote. “This means adopting the attitude of ‘good enough’ even in desperate times.”
What that means in a book club and in a democracy come together in her additional thoughts. “All we can do is our part. We cannot do everything because that is impossible and also because the myth that we can bestows exhausting mental burden. And we have to do our part even if others are not doing theirs. Interacting with the folks in the [WTP] Practice Circle taught me this. Each of them did the work, tried the practices, and made their corner a bit more peaceful. When we give in to despair, it is because we are exhausted by the idea that we can never do enough. Despair is the enemy, and doing our part is the antidote.”
Julie may have been talking about many of the characters we encountered in our twelve months of reading, from John Steinbeck’s Tom Joad to Zora Neale Hurston’s Janie Woods. “Each of the books is honest about where we are in relation to our ideals. They hold up tough love as a form of patriotism and, hopefully, inspire in their readers compassionate action as an alternative to a feeling of powerlessness.”
Based on participants’ comments and feedback, the books—along with Julie’s thoughtful summaries, prompts, practices, and facilitation of the Practice Circle—did just that, encouraging deep thought, engagement with others, and, yes, compassionate action.
As one book club member puts it, "It has been difficult to think about justice in the past weeks. We the people seem in dire straits. I am focusing on walking humbly and spreading peace to those I encounter. I see Janie [the main character in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God] searching for freedom and fulfillment in a stifling culture. She is fighting resistance to change and the heaviness of generational oppression. The beautiful thing to read was her awareness of life wanting to bloom and grow from within. That may be our hope for closing the divisions in our nation today. I pray for our national wounds to receive healing as we look at them courageously and ask for strength not to continue passing them on to others."
Heading into an election year that is bound to challenge each of us, finding ways to be more resilient and remembering to practice the core values of democracy will be increasingly valuable. If you’re one to engage through reading, consider a We the People Book Club experience. All of the reading guides and book club Practice Circle experiences are now available on demand. You may register for one or multiple selections and you’ll have the option to create your own Practice Circle for the book(s) you choose. Also, the entire collection of book club reading guides are free to download anytime!
We the People Book Club selections chronicle the last century of American thought and explore such themes as individualism and communalism, difference and unity, law and justice, the "stranger," and the spiritual values of resilience, compassion, hospitality, freedom, equality, and civility. The full selection of books include:
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor
Selected Poems of Walt Whitman and Maya Angelou
Tenth of December by George Saunders
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Puddnhead Wilson by Mark Twain
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Between the World and Meby Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Partly-Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
What books would you add to the We the People selections?
Spirituality & Practice (S&P) is a multi-faith website devoted to resources for spiritual journeys. While respecting differences among traditions, S&P celebrates what they share in common.