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Book Club Discussion Notes—Digging In

Welcome to Book Club!

Thank you for choosing one of the volumes of the Saving Our Lives series for your group. Here are some suggestions for questions and activities that will help you to make the most these books.

There are twenty-six essays in Volume One, thirty-two essays in Volume Two and thirty-six essays in Volume Three. The topics in each book are various and are loosely divided into seven categories. Regardless of how your meetings are structured, this is a lot of discussion to organize for a single book club session.

You could stick to the general questions that appear in the previous entry. They will serve you well and generate some thought-provoking discussions. But if you want to probe the individual essays a little deeper, that will take a bit more planning. So here are a few different ways to divvy up both the books and your time:

1. Everyone reads the whole book. Then have each member of the group come to the meeting prepared to talk about one essay of their choosing that they particularly liked or disliked. That member should be able to tell the group what appealed (or didn’t) and then give the other members a chance to voice their opinions. Coordinate ahead of time so that everyone is coming in with a different essay to present.

(Alternate approach: Duplicate the Contents page and cut the individual titles into strips. Put the titles into a hat and have everyone draw one to be responsible for— like it or not.)

2. Everyone reads the whole book. Each member comes to the meeting with a list of their five favorite essays and their five least favorite essays. (If they could call them in to the leader an hour before, that would save time during the session.) On a white board (or on paper), make two lists—one of everyone’s favorites and one of everyone’s least favorites. Base your discussion, then, on one (or more) of the following results. Start the discussion by asking members to defend their choices.

          Essays that showed up on both lists.

          Essays that showed up on the favorites list only.

          Essays that showed up on the least favorites list only.

          Essays that showed up on either list more than once.

          Essays that didn’t show up on either list.

3. Everyone reads the whole book. Put all essay titles on separate slips of paper and toss them in a hat. Pick one essay out of the hat for discussion. When everyone is satisfied that the essay has been sufficiently dealt with, pick another title. Continue for as much time as you have or for as many sessions as you want to.

4. Assign essays randomly so no two people are reading the same ones. Decide on a set number of essays for each member to read—maybe five. (Use the hat-drawing approach mentioned above to decide who reads what and to assure that there’s no duplication.) At the meeting, members should briefly summarize each essay they have been assigned and convince the others in the group why they should read it or why they should skip it. Based on this discussion, members will make a list of at least five more essays that they will read.

At the next session, members can discuss what they thought of the new essays, whether or not they agreed with the previous assessments of them and whether or not they would recommend them to members of the group who had not yet read them. At this point, members can commit to reading more essays or not. Another session? Up to you.

5. Each of the seven sections of each Volume is prefaced with a page or two of introduction. Have members read each of the introductory pages (perhaps aloud) at one session and then, based on that reading, rank the sections from first to last (or 1 to 7) that they’d like to read for the next time. The leader should then arrange the sections in order of votes. (A white board would be very helpful here.) Next time, begin by discussing the essays in the section that got the highest votes. Continue down the line for as much time as you have or as many sessions as you are willing to give over to this book.

Discuss whether or not the introductions gave a fair and accurate assessment of the essays included in the section.

6. Remember that each essay has several writing prompts at its end. Use these prompts to generate discussion on individual essays and to probe it deeper and more personally. Some essays could easily generate enough discussion to fill up a whole session all by themselves. If this happens, let it happen. It means that the group is enjoying it and benefiting by it.

7. Is it daring to suggest that your members write essays of their own to share with the group? Chances are good that discussions of the Saving Our Lives essays in your group have given way to spirited revelations of personal stories. I hope so. Suggest that members get their stories written down. Perhaps your book club can write a book of its own!

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