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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

BPL Book Discussion: The Time of Our Lives with Bonus Coverage of Our End of the Year Meeting

Monday was our year end book discussion/state of the group meeting/holiday pot luck party. A good time was had by all and we even had the fire alarm go off (due to construction in another part of the building) and had to evacuate.  We will have a good story from it.

Before I get into the book itself, after enjoying lunch, we had a short discussion about the group itself.  I wanted to give everyone the chance to talk about what they like and, more importantly, what they don't like about our group.

I started the conversation by talking about the Group Norms and Leadership Norms which I have created for my Re-Charge Your Book Club program that I give at libraries and for area book clubs. These are things I have created for my consulting. Since people pay for either the full program or some one-on-one coaching, I cannot link to them here, but if you contact me off the blog we can talk about it. I can even guest lead your book club in person or via Skype, and we can talk about the book and your group dynamic.

After we talked about these norms and how we do following them, I asked for comments specific to us.  I failed in getting the criticism I was looking for, but here are some of their comments:
  • I like it that you let people know when their turn is coming.  [What I do is acknowledge people who want to speak and let the group know who the next 3 people will be.]
  • I love that you take control when things start to get off track and you bring us back.
  • My friends in other groups are upset that their meetings only spend 10 minutes talking about the book and are shocked to hear we spend 60-90 mins on the book only.
  • I love that a sense of trust and comfort has developed among us.
  • If I don't like the book I know that if I come to the discussion I will learn to appreciate why others may have liked it.
  • I appreciate that the people in group are willing to be open and have an open mind.
  • We all respect each other, even when we disagree.
  • I love that this group "stretches my mind."
Now on to the book.  We discussed The Time of Our Lives: A Conversations About America by Tom Brokaw, but let me warn you, our December meeting is much lighter on the discussion than most months.  We have all agreed to this arrangement ahead of time though. The book description from the publisher:
Tom Brokaw, known and beloved for his landmark work in American journalism and for the New York Times bestsellers The Greatest Generation and Boom!, now turns his attention to the challenges that face America in the new millennium, to offer reflections on how we can restore America’s greatness. 
“What happened to the America I thought I knew?” Brokaw writes. “Have we simply wandered off course, but only temporarily? Or have we allowed ourselves to be so divided that we’re easy prey for hijackers who could steer us onto a path to a crash landing? . . . I do have some thoughts, original and inspired by others, for our journey into the heart of a new century.”
Rooted in the values, lessons, and verities of generations past and of his South Dakota upbringing, Brokaw weaves together inspiring stories of Americans who are making a difference and personal stories from his own family history, to engage us in a conversation about our country and to offer ideas for how we can revitalize the promise of the American Dream.
Inviting us to foster a rebirth of family, community, and civic engagement as profound as the one that won World War II, built our postwar prosperity, and ushered in the Civil Rights era, Brokaw traces the exciting, unnerving changes in modern life—in values, education, public service, housing, the Internet, and more—that have transformed our society in the decades since the age of thrift in which he was raised. Offering ideas from Americans who are change agents in their communities, in The Time of Our Lives, Brokaw gives us, a wise, honest, and wide-ranging book, a nourishing vision of hopefulness in an age of diminished expectations.
  • We had a smaller turnout due to the holidays.  I had 3 liked, 4 disliked, and 2 so-sos.
  • I took advantage of the smaller group and went around to ask each person to share one statement about the book to get us going.  I wish I could always do this, but it is unrealistic when we usually have 15+. So here are the comments in no order other than how we sat around the table:
    • I was familiar with Brokaw and loved his story. I liked finding out he is just an ordinary guy.
    • I thought the book had too much ego and platitudes
    • I found the quick assessment of where we have been and where we are headed interesting and it gave me some new insight to the larger picture.
    • I found it bland and uninteresting.
    • Too much I, I, I. Brokaw spent a lot of time talking about how great he and his family are.
    • I found it though provoking
    • bland
    • I liked the reflection aspects.
    • I enjoyed the style, how he started each chapter with some facts and then posed a few questions before the text started.
    • It felt unoriginal and way too much on the surface.  He never delved into any one topic deeply.
    • I think this would be a good book for middle school students to read and discuss to give them a snapshot of where our country has been and beginning to talk about where it might be going.
  • Question: What do you think of when you hear the phrase "American Values."
    • work ethic
    • freedom to achieve
    • helping one and other
    • Brokaw wrote this book because he is concerned about our American values being lost.
  • Our conversation veered toward talking about rising Asia
    • In China and Korea, education is a top priority. It is not here for our school are mediocre.
    • The Chinese have more of a community ethic.  In America it is sometimes seen as a weakness to ask for help.
  • Question: Does Brokaw think we have had a golden age and that we cannot get it back?
    • I think he has some optimism that things have been going badly for awhile but that they are picking back up now.
    • The 1950s were seen as golden but there was an ignored underbelly then too.
    • No one is taking responsibility anymore.
    • We talked about the problem in our schools today, but then one participant shared her experience working in an inner city Chicago school in 1969.  It was bad.
  • Question: The subtitle of the book  is "A Conversation About America." Did you feel like the book was a conversation?
    • It was more reminiscing than conversation.
    • I thought it was more like her was trying to share the conversations he heard while traveling across America.  It is clear he is a good listener.
    • I thought there was too much of his interjecting of his personal story, all those "I's" got in the way of allowing the book to truly be a conversation.
    • It was an easy read.
    • Too much reminiscing.
    • I liked that it was all about big issues; that made it an easy read, but then I would be upset that it was just scratching the surface.
    • But, if he went too deeply into any one issue, no one would read it. It is a problem with America that no one wants to spend the time to delve deeply into anything.  He knows that and used it to his advantage by getting as many big issues in this book that he could.
  • Question: What does the "American Dream" mean to you.
    • Opportunity! But you have to pursue it and work at it.  America rewards hard work.
    • Now I feel like the American Dream is simply to hold on to what you have and keep it.  It is no longer about doing better than your parents.  It is about not sliding back.
    • We can't grow forever.
    • Education is key to the American Dream.
    • You need to prepare yourself to grab at opportunity. Education prepares you.
    • American Dream also means to take responsibility for paying it forward to others when you succeed. Like Warren Buffet trying to persuade other billionaires to donate half of their income to charity.
    • Some people haven't bought into the American Dream yet; they won't put in the work.
    • If you get knocked down you need to get back up.

Readalikes: When the Wednesday evening group discussed The Time of Our Lives Kathy prepared this list of readalikes:

  • The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson (fiction) follows the travails of an Iowa family and includes war veterans
  • Notes on the Kitchen Table by Bob Green (nonfiction) is written in the same folksy style. It asks the question, if you had to write one note to future generations, what would you say?
  • The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer (nonfiction) looks at the last 30 years in America by following specific individuals and charts the erosion of the social compact that kept the country and middle class stable.
  • Understanding America by Peter Schuck (nonfiction). Here leading scholars and professors and examine America's values institutions, political system, and the future.
Kathy did a great job with that list, so I am not going to add much more, but if you are looking for more fiction suggestions, I think the folksy and inspirational tone and Brokaw's appreciation for life in small town America is reminiscent of Fannie Flagg, Philip Gulley, or Adriana Trigiani's Big Stone Gap series.

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