Challenge is choosing the material

Book club

Howard Live

April 19, 2001

An interview with Fran Fanshel, a member of the Shirley Valentines Book Club.

Where does the title of your club come from? The name of the book club was inspired by this movie, which is about a British woman [named Shirley Valentine] ... running from this pedestrian life. ... Reading can be an escape. The title of the club represents reading as in escape as well as edification.

What is your club's process for deciding what books to read? Finding the book is a big challenge now, and I think that explains why in both groups [that Fanshel is a member of] there's this sort of going back to the classics. And we do nonfiction, biographies, and there's the usual Oprah [Winfrey] book club books. I think we sort of [overdosed] on Oprah books. We've done themes. For instance, one theme was pioneering women, so each of us read a different book on a pioneering woman and shared it. ... Another theme was Eleanor Roosevelt, so we all read different books about Eleanor Roosevelt.

What book are members reading now? "Rose's Garden." It's fiction. ... It was actually written by a woman that two of us had worked with before at the Columbia Flier, Carrie Brown [a former Howard County resident].

Is there a book that members have especially liked? "Personal History," Katherine Graham's autobiography. That was great. She's the publisher of the Washington Post. She had a fascinating life. Unbelievable. She knew every major figure in the 20th century and had her own personal traumas. It was really excellent.

How many members does your group have? About 12 or 13, and I'd say we get three-quarters most of the time, which I think is pretty good. I guess there's a core of about six of us most of the time, and other people come when they can. We've had sessions where we've had, you know, 11 or 12 people.

Do you think it's the particular book that brings people out? Actually, no. ... It's really the camaraderie and people enjoying the idea of coming together. You know, it's like an old-fashioned sewing circle. ... Just a great way to have good conversation about something substantive.

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