Students in my service learning sections of comp this term have been writing about Paul Loeb's book The Soul of a Citizen, a book that's critical of the limits of volunteerism but hopeful about the possibility of community. Largely the best work the students have done all term. My sense is that part of the reason why is that we devoted significant amounts of class time to discussing and doing some low-stakes writing about the book. They've been engaging with the text for weeks, and I think the writing reflects that longer-term engagement.
But what interests me as much as the quality of the work the students are producing is the fact that we're using a whole book. The whole text "movement"--if there is such a thing--probably relies too heavily on nostalgic and mythic arguments (e.g., students don't read). And yet I've felt called in recent years in this direction. Part of it is a general dislike for textbooks. Also, I'm just tired, after a decade or so of teaching writing, of "readers." Too many excerpts. Too much canonizing of "essays," a genre so disparate and big umbrella that it's lost meaning.
While I don't buy into the nostalgic elements of the pro-whole text arguments, I do buy into the value of engaging with book-length pieces of non-fiction. Books can create sustained discussions (I know, so can a series of excerpts on a common theme). Books resist the imperative to take small bites of texts and writers.
I'm inclined to keep experimenting with whole texts in just about all of the undergrad classes I teach. So far I've seen benefits in terms of creating a space that's intellectual and discussion-oriented. A piece of non-fiction like Loeb's book models lots of rhetorical devices and presents lots of writing opportunities.