Book Clubs: Notes from the Field

Book Clubs: Notes from the Field



Book Club Announcement Flyer from Culture of Empathy Book Club

The American Library Association and the Fetzer Institute in 2012 picked 16 libraries around the US to receive funds for establishing Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life book clubs. Each group focused on a local compassion-related issue or theme. Through the States, Canada, Europe and Asia other groups are formed each week to read and discuss the book.  Here are some notes from the field followed by ideas and materials that you may incorporate in a book club you might initiate. When you start a book club, make sure to register to get a free discussion guide, and become a member of the Charter for Compassion Book Club on Facebook.

Vancouver, BC, Canada

There were 63 book clubs alone organized in the Vancouver area in the last year leading up to the 12 Days of Compassion events with Karen Armstrong. 

Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan of Or Shalom Synagogue in Vancouver blogged about her groups’ trouble coming to terms with some of the requirements of the 12 Steps:

“What if I don’t want to be considerate of everyone? Should I really treat a political mass murderer as I would want to be treated? Might not my integrity, self-esteem, and inner resources be drained? How can I create good boundaries in the face of endless demands?"

The Rabbi came up with a mental exercise to combat these self-imposed boundaries:

  • Get comfortable. Breathe, relax.
  • Think each of these phrases with intention: May I live in safety. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease.
  • Visualize someone you like very much. Think each of these phrases with intention: May you live in safety…
  • Visualize someone you are neutral about. Think each of these phrases with intention: May you…
  • Visualize someone you dislike. Think each of these phrases with intention: May you…
  • Come back to yourself. Think each of these phrases with intention: May I…
  • Breathe, relax; open your eyes when you are ready. 


Teri, in a group in Arizona, recommended a group structure where each chapter’s discussion was led by a different member.  Even if it was a little intimidating before the session she said: “It gives each of us a great appreciation for the prep work involved....and we're all the more determined to participate fully to 'assist" the leader'."

Terri noted changes within herself and the group: “Even after just the first chapter....I found myself biting my tongue frequently and censoring my speech....and hopefully soon I can stop myself from even thinking of some of the 'venting' I might have done before.  I'd already had plans to read this book before I learned this group was forming. I sort of invited myself. I'm definitely getting so very much more out of it by hearing other people's thoughts.”

Winnipeg, Canada

Lori’s Fort Garry United Church in Winnipeg is pursuing a Year of Living Compassionately. There are now five groups with plans for more – a woman’s group, a men’s group, seniors group…

The keys to success in these reading groups is simply meeting together, a flexibility in format, reading the book, talking about things that matter, and the participation of the members. However, Lori reports: "I think the most important sign of success is the ways in which members of our congregation are integrating compassion into their way of living and making different choices based on compassion in their life and work. Beginning from compassion prompts a completely different way of thinking about, interacting, and working with people. It helps us connect with people more authentically."



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