I began to group them by theme and author. When I discover a new author, I often read a selection of their work. I also often have topics that I explore and this year art seems to top the list. When I tally it up two authors accounted for over 20% of my reading while art topics took in another 10%+. I think authors are worthy of special acknowledgement when I return to the well for more, so let me introduce you to two authors and the topic that merited my attention.
The other author I discovered was Paulette Jiles. The important thing to recognize about her is that she was a poet before she became a novelist and that is evident in her writing. It is often beautiful, but not in an overpowering way that obscures the story. Her work is often based on history, but fictionalized to the extent that history leaves much unsaid and a writer has gaps to fill. The first book I read of hers was News of the World which follows the post Civil War story of a man who makes his living bringing the news to the towns on his route through Texas. In each city he publicly reads from a variety of papers to the townspeople. In route he is asked to deliver a ten year old girl to her family after her recovery from the Indians who kidnapped her. A simple premise, but so beautifully told.
I was taken with the sheer elegance of Jiles' storytelling, so followed this book with The Color of Lightening which has some overlapping characters and provides more of the back story of the theme of Indian life and kidnapping of children who readily adapt to it. I then moved on to Stormy Weather, the story of a mother and her three daughters who carve out a life in Texas during the Depression. I closed with her novel Enemy Women, set during the Civil War and depicting the struggles faced by both sides. Each one of these books was well crafted and beautifully written with well-developed characters who you come to care about.
I am always intrigued to learn that lives of well known historical figures overlapped and influenced each other. Two books explore this theme, one through non-fiction, the other fictionalized, but drawing on historical record. The first is You Must Change Your Life by Rachel Corbett which explores the relationship between Rodin and Rainier Maria Rilke. Rilke was both a friend and one time secretary to Rodin and viewed him as a mentor in how he approached an artistic life. He was also ultimately disillusioned in his hero, perhaps a necessary step as he matured as a poet. I followed that book with Oil and Marble by Stephanie Storey, a book that looks at the competition between Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo as they created their works of the Mona Lisa and David respectively during the same window of time.The book gave each of them form and personality and explored the process of creation of these masterworks.
Other books on my art list included The Last Painting of Sarah de Vos by Dominic Smith,The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro and Shocking Paris by Stanley Meisler. The Last Painting of Sarah de Vos is not about an actual artist, but rather a fictionalized story that follows a Dutch painting by a female artist in its journey in modern times. It is a well constructed novel that enters the world in which the painting was created as well as the modern day world of those whose lives it touches. The Muralist also is fictionalized, but placed into the actual world of the Abstract Expressionists. It too moves between past and present and incorporates family lost in the Holocaust, reminding us that events are never far from their historical context. Shocking Paris is a nonfiction book that explores the artists who made up the School of Paris with a focus on Soutine and the other Jewish artists who emigrated to Paris and formed a significant part of this group.