Saturday, May 13, 2017

Books beloved by artists

Don't you think that everyone likes to read a book with a protagonist or supporting character who shares something in common with them? My particular extracurricular interest is art and painting, and I love books with art as a theme. So in the same train of thought as the books about books that readers love, here are some books about or containing art that artists may enjoy. (You may also notice a tendency to choose books set in Paris. Well, it's an artistic town!) Some are big family sagas or historical fiction, a few are coming-of-age stories, and the rest are all about the painting. There are both adult and young adult fiction titles included, but don't let a label deter you: Read them all!

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
Theo Decker survives a brutal bombing at an art museum that takes the life of his beloved mother. In the confusion during the explosion, Theo rescues (but then keeps for himself) a priceless painting, which comes to symbolize for him his idyllic lost youth. Powerful, moody, and poetic (and long). Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Adult fiction.

Carduelis carduelis--Goldfinch.

The Very Picture of You, by Isabel Wolff
Elsa is a portrait painter who elicits the stories of those she paints while they pose for her, and discovers some truths about herself in the process, especially while painting her sister's fiance. Adult fiction.

The Shell Seekers, by Rosamunde Pilcher
Set partly in the past, partly in the present, this is the story of Penelope Keeling, whose father was a famous Cornish painter. Now in her declining years, her prize possession is a portrait by him called The Shell Seekers. Her three children all become aware of its value, and all have an opinion about what she should do with both the portrait and herself. Penelope has different ideas. This is a wonderfully drawn family saga, and if you like books set in World War II, half of this book takes place during that time period, in Penelope's youth. Adult fiction.

The Truth Commission, by Susan Juby
Dawn, Neil, and Normandy go to the Green Pastures School of Art and Applied Design. Each is artistic in a different way, as are all their crazy classmates, but Normandy has always felt overshadowed by her older sister, Keira, who preceded her at the school and went on to become a famous graphic artist. She is also discomfited by the fact that in her graphic novels, Keira has drawn her family--mother, father, and Normandy--as characters, and in a particularly unflattering--verging on vicious--way. Her response to this is to begin a project at school destined to bring the truth, however difficult and dangerous, into the open. YA fiction.

I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You,
by Courtney Maum
Not my favorite, but some people may like it. It's about a guy who tries to bring some pizzazz to his life by having an affair. After having lost both the mistress and the wife, he then tries to revive his ailing art career by exploring new mediums and methods. I liked it for the setting (Paris) and the discussions about the art world. I never did figure out the title, because no one, anywhere in this book, is having any fun! Adult fiction.

A Paris Apartment, by Michelle Gable
Another one where the premise is better than the result, but again, the setting (Paris) and the convoluted process of holding a Sotheby's auction for the art was intriguing. Adult fiction.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt
This book isn't specificallly about art, but uses it as a vehicle. June Elbus's uncle, Finn Weiss, is dying of a mysterious disease (AIDS), and the way he chooses to spend his final days is painting a portrait of his nieces, June and her older sister. Although the bulk of the book is June's coming of age through the process of discovering and coming to terms with the secret parts of her uncle's life that were kept from her by her parents, the painting plays an ongoing role throughout the book that ties it all together. An Alex Award winner. Adult fiction.


I'll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
Twins Jude and Noah are both artistic, but Noah's art just burgeons out of him. At 13, he is being coached by his mother to apply for an arts high school, while Jude is acting out as a typical teenage girl. But jump to three years later and Noah has ceased to make any art, while Jude is struggling as an art student at the school Noah was supposedly destined to attend. What happened in those intervening three years? And who will help the twins to regain their balance and express their art and themselves? Beautifully written and characterized, with a touch of magical realism that enhances the story. YA fiction (but should be for everyone).

The Gravity of Birds, by Tracy Guzman
An art historian and an art authenticator are hired by a famous reclusive artist to sell a portrait that had a devastating effect on the two sisters who sat for it. But is the sale of the portrait the artist's real motive? This is a fairly simple story, and simply written, yet the complexity of human emotions and betrayals involved made it intricate and nuanced, and the imagery is compelling. Adult fiction.

The Mystery of the Third Lucretia, by Susan Runholt
An art caper with a forged Rembrandt and two teenage girl sleuths. Fun, will appeal to fans of Nancy Drew, both young and old. YA fiction.

Heist Society (and sequels), by Ally Carter
Another art caper. The protagonist is from a family of international art thieves. A big robbery has taken place, and the mafia guy who owned the paintings thinks her father did the robbery, but he didn't. She's been given a deadline to give them back, so she and her cousins/friends have to figure out who DID take the paintings, and steal them back! Completely implausible, of course, but big fun. YA fiction.

The Painter, by Peter Heller
This book pairs thoughtful, in-depth musing about life's tragedies and how we react to them with breathless scenes of action worthy of the latest blockbuster thriller. The protagonist paints Expressionist masterpieces, while acting like a character gone astray from a Hemingway novel. Adult fiction.

Spending, by Mary Gordon
Monica Szabo is a painter in her 50s who has struggled her whole life with the dichotomy between making a living and expressing her art. Then a man comes along who wants to be her patron, in the sense of classical artists being sponsored by the Medici so they were free to make art. Monica struggles with the concept of being a "kept woman" even as she delights in the freedom to begin her most powerful and controversial work. Then their roles abruptly change, and new philosophical questions are up for review. An engaging story that addresses gender stereotypes, religion, and artistic integrity, without losing the immediacy of the relationship. Adult fiction.

The Improbability of Love, by Hannah Mary Rothschild
Annie is a hapless aspiring chef who happens upon a tiny Watteau painting in a junk shop, buys it for a new boyfriend who stands her up for their date, and then is intrigued enough by it to start looking into its history, which includes stories of Nazi Germany and the hidden and circuitous route the painting takes through centuries of diverse ownership. (The title of the book is the title of the painting.) Adult fiction.

The Girl You Left Behind, by JoJo Moyes
In 1916, French artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his wife, Sophie, and the portrait of her he has painted, to fight at the Front in World War I. A century later, Liv is given the painting as a wedding present by her new husband, shortly before his unexpected death. The past and present of the painting tie these two stories together and make for an engaging history. Adult fiction.

The Art Forger, by B. A. Shapiro
Claire Roth is a struggling young artist making a living by reproducing famous artworks for a popular online retailer. Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner, strikes a bargain with her to forge a Degas masterpiece stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston 25 years before, in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowed gallery. But when the real painting is delivered to her for copying, Claire's eye for forgery finds suspicious signs that the supposed original may itself be bogus. Lots of great details about how forged paintings are made, and discovered. Adult fiction.

I'm sure there are many more books about painting to be discovered. When I do, I will share those, too!



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