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For the Love of Lit

Meritt Sawyer and friends revive the value of family and the printed page.

Back in 2001, in a fourth-grade schoolroom in the San Francisco Bay area, a band of 12 mothers had an idea: What if we read books together with our daughters? Bibliophile Meritt Sawyer, whose gift for leadership was bearing fruit on the boards of John Stott Ministries and Fuller Theological Seminary, watched her initiative take off. "We knew the girls would be going through stages where hanging out with Mom was not the favorite thing to do," she says. The girls are now beginning their sophomore years in high school, yet still convene for meals and spirited conversation. "This continues to be a vehicle to bring us together," says Sawyer.

Central to the purpose of the mother-daughter book club, now in its seventh year, is to instill in the girls a love of literature. As Meritt's daughter, Clary, observes, "Most of the time people my age—members of the club included—are doing sports or musicals. They usually don't think that reading can be an extracurricular activity." The group's reading list has spanned everything from classics such as The Odyssey and The Count of Monte Cristo to contemporary fiction such as Josh Grogan's Marley & Me, Sue Monk Kidd's Secret Life of Bees, and Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, among others worthy of an Oprah endorsement.

Sawyer's book club insists on gathering for meals beforehand, ensuring plenty of face-to-face time with family and peers while they introduce their daughters to current social and ethical questions. For example, upon reading two books about girls coming of age during China's Cultural Revolution, Chinese Cinderella and Red Scarf Girl, the group talked about the revolution's disastrous effect on families. "That was a profound discussion for them," says Sawyer, ...

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