MFAH Book Club Tours

This is where art and literature meet! Designed for established book clubs—whether formal or informal groups—the MFAH Book Club links works of literature to works of art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

The MFAH Book Club presents three selections per year. Each book:

  • Is featured for a four-month period in the fall, spring, and summer
  • Is accompanied by a downloadable discussion guide to facilitate group discussions
  • Culminates with a docent-led tour at the Museum, scheduled in advance (see below)
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Spring 2015


The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon (c. 966–1017)
Suggested edition: Penguin Books 2006

From the introduction by translator Meredith McKinney:

“A thousand years ago, in a world in many ways unimaginably different from ours, a lady at the imperial court of Japan settled herself in front of a precious bundle of paper and began to write the extraordinary work later called Makura no sōshi, known to English readers as The Pillow Book. In it she wrote about her world, in a voice so vividly alive that we find ourselves in the presence of a woman we recognize as we would a friend.

“The world Sei Shōnagon lived in and wrote for was the intimate world of the court—instantly recognizable to her and her audience, but so opaque to us that we have only her words to guide us. As we read her apparently crazy quilt of vignettes and opinions and anecdotes, we find ourselves deep inside this world, and feel her responses along with our own nerves. But the modern reader’s compelling sense of intimacy with Sei Shōnagon and her world, which is one of the great achievements of her writing, is of course based on an illusion.”

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How to Participate

For book clubs and other groups of six or more confirmed participants:

  1. Read the book. MFAH Book Club selections may be purchased at The MFAH Shop, where Museum members always receive a discount. Reading copies are also available in the Museum’s Hirsch Library.
     
  2. Download the discussion guide to facilitate your conversation. This guide features questions about the book and works of art in the MFAH collections and exhibitions.
     
  3. Request a docent-led tour by e-mailing bookclub@mfah.org—a minimum of 2 weeks in advance—with the following information:

    • The name of your group
    • The primary organizer's name
    • A telephone number and e-mail address
    • Your preferred date and time:

    Tours related to Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book are available between January 2 and April 27, 2015, on the following days and times:

    Tuesdays, 2 p.m. or 3:30 p.m.
    Wednesdays, 2 p.m. or 3:30 p.m.
    Thursdays, 10:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m., or 6:30 p.m.
    Sundays, 2 p.m. or 3:30 p.m.

    Note: If your group meets on a specific day and at a specific time not listed above, please e-mail your request to bookclub@mfah.org and we can try to accommodate.
     
  4. Look for a confirmation e-mail, within 3 to 5 business days, for information about when and where to meet the docent at the Museum.

Questions? E-mail bookclub@mfah.org

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What to Expect on an MFAH Book Club Tour

Docents facilitate tours selecting several works of art on view at the Museum that they feel best connect with the featured book. Excerpts from the book are a vital component of the discussion-based tour, so it is recommended you bring your copy of the book along. Lively discussion of the book and the works of art are highly encouraged.

The tours last approximately one hour. Camp stools are provided for seating.

MFAH Book Club tours are free with general Museum admission for nonmembers. Admission is always free for Museum members.

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Planning ahead?


The MFAH Book Club summer 2015 selection is a classic of European literature, The Radetzky March, written by Joseph Roth (1894–1939). Suggested edition: The Overlook Press, 2002

Check back for a discussion guide! Related tours are offered May 1 through August 30, 2015.

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The MFAH Book Club receives generous support from Aggie and Joe Foster.

All education programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.

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