An interview with Fran Fanshel, a founding member of The Shirley ValentinesBook Club.
How did your club come up with its name? It was inspired by the movie, which was about two women who run away from their everyday lives to seek adventure. So the book club name is a metaphor for seeking adventure through reading.
Does the name inspire the kinds of books your club chooses? No, it was just a launching point. Part of the reason we were forming the club was to stay in touch with one another because I was changing jobs to work out of town, and most everyone else was working in Columbia. We've been doing it now for five years.
Did your club set any guidelines for the kinds of books it would read? Not really. At the first meeting, we assembled a list and tried to pick titles and pick a schedule. The schedule was about every six weeks. People brought recommendations from friends, from librarians and other book clubs. But occasionally, we pick a theme and everyone can pick a book in that theme and then report back. Some of the themes have been Eleanor Roosevelt and women pioneers. It didn't have to be fiction; it could be nonfiction. Some people in the group have taken it upon themselves to look up study guides of questions. I think in any group there's a need for structure because it can disintegrate into too much socializing.
What are you reading now? Our next meeting is in August, and the book we have chosen to read is Three Junes by Julia Glass. The last book we read was The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason. A lot of people really liked that book because they were taken with the plot. But two of us didn't like it that much.
Has your membership changed in the five years you've been together? Yes. We have between 10 and 12 people, and we try to not let it get too big because it's difficult to have reasonable conversations in the one-and-a-half-hour time frame. One member moved, so another one asked to bring a friend to take the former member's place.
Do you recall any books that generated a particularly lively discussion? We read The Hours by Michael Cunningham. It's not a very long book, but it's a very good book. He took Virginia Wolfe's Mrs. Dalloway and then created something entirely new out of that experience. It's very inventive. It's hard to describe. The book was beautifully written.