It's hard to write a review of this book. It's hard to even know where to begin.
Joan did grow up to be a professional ballerina, as had been her dreamIt's hard to write a review of this book. It's hard to even know where to begin.
Joan did grow up to be a professional ballerina, as had been her dream, but she knows her talent and hard work will never get her out of the corp. One day in Paris, she sneaks in to the theater to watch the famous Soviet dancer Arslan, rehearse. She seduces him afterwards, and he then enlists her in his effort to defect. While her dancing is not enough to make her famous, her driving Arslan over the Canadian border to America, is. But it's not enough. Joan didn't want to be famous. She wanted to be a prima ballerina. And Arslan is now engaged to a fellow Soviet defector (and a prima Ballerina.) When her dreams are dying, she finds she is pregnant. She had visited her old high school friend Jacob and she says he is the father. Her roommate Elaine accused her of doing it on purpose in order to quit ballet. Joan denies it. But Joan and Jacob marry and move to California, leaving her old life behind. Except that ballet is in Joan's bones, and she can never truly leave it. As the years pass, ballet comes back into her life in an important way, leaving Jacob feeling left out and suspicious.
I've read many raving reviews of how masterful this novel is, and while I agree that it's well done, and I only figured out the twist moments before the characters did, I didn't find this to be one of the best books of the year. It certainly has reignited my lifelong love of ballet. And it made me glad there was never a fleeting moment of hope for my own professional aspirations. The book really gives a good inside view into the world of ballet, and how it is so much harder and more taxing than it looks, emotionally as well as physically. The characters are well-drawn, but I do wish there had been more of a plot. Still, it was a great read and I thoroughly enjoyed it....more
This novel tells two stories. First is the story of Josephine, a slave girl in Virginia whose mistress is a wannabee artist--while Josephine really isThis novel tells two stories. First is the story of Josephine, a slave girl in Virginia whose mistress is a wannabee artist--while Josephine really is talented. The second is the story of Lina, a lawyer in modern-day New York City, working on a slavery reparations case and searching for descendants of a slave who would be good plaintiffs for the case, when she stumbles across Josephine's story.
I found Lina's story much more compelling. Josephine's, while overall not bad, did strike me as a bit cliched (it starts off with her master hitting her in the face for absolutely no reason and no history of doing that, and it comes to nothing, just gratuitous violence.) Lina felt a lot more real, more well-developed. While she's searching for the truth about Josephine, she's also searching for the truth about her own mother who died when she was a small child and about whom she knows next to nothing. But her artist father might be finally ready to talk with her.
The book does move forward at a pretty good pace, but a chunk of the book that is a letter from the 1860s did drag, as did another collection of letters. I wish she had incorporated the content into the storyline more, rather than giving us the unexpurgated, full letters, which were written entirely too on-point to be considered remotely realistic, and yet were too slow-going and artificially historically-written to flow well.
The above storyline is quite enough for one book, but throw in a controversy about the legitimacy of the paintings, an entire subplot about another family working the underground railroad, a missing baby, and it started to feel like she's dumped in everything but the kitchen sink.
Now don't get me wrong, I did overall like the book well enough, but it did have some first-time novelist flaws. And I just wasn't in the right mood for the book, as I am feeling overdosed on Civil War-slavery novels right now. I liked the book well enough as a whole, and it did have some interesting discussion points for our book club, but it was flawed....more
It is so rare that I read a book right when it jumps onto the New York Times Bestseller list, that I really think I should do this more often! It's niIt is so rare that I read a book right when it jumps onto the New York Times Bestseller list, that I really think I should do this more often! It's nice to be on the cutting edge of literary news for once. But this is one of those books that when I heard about it, I just knew I had to read it.
Claire is an artist, and on the side she paints copies of famous paintings, mostly Impressionists, for Reproductions.com (what a brilliant idea - why is this not a real website?) After all, she needs to do that for income because she is a pariah in the art world of Boston. Three years earlier she had made a couple of dubious decisions that resulted in her being called The Great Pretender and blackballed from pretty much everything important in her field in her city. She is trying to work her way back to at least anonymity, if not respectability, when an acquaintance, the owner of one of the most powerful galleries in the city, comes to her with a proposition. He has somehow (don't ask how) gotten his hands on one of the Degas paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum back in 1990, and he wants Claire to paint a copy. He plans to return the original to the museum after bilking an unscrupulous collector with the copy. This isn't quite the entree back into the art world that Claire has been waiting for, but when he backs up his significant paycheck with a promise of an art show, she doesn't feel she can turn him down. Naturally, things get complicated. Particularly when Claire notices some details in the original that are just... wrong. Is it really an original at all? If not, where is the original and why did this one hang in its place for so many decades?
One thing I found fascinating about this book is that the first two-thirds are all about the Boston art scene, about how forgeries work, about Claire's past mistakes, and about her wanting to move on. Then somehow the last third of the book morphs into a thriller with the cops and FBI and arrests and intrigue and hidden secret basements and forgeries and lies, and yet it totally works. If I had known this in advance, it probably would have been a bit of a turn-off as it's so rare that an author can pull off such a drastic change in tone and pacing successful, but Shapiro has. The shift is flawlessly pulled off and I dare anyone to try to put this book down in the last fifty pages. I couldn't. And I have the lack of sleep to prove it! And yet there are formal gowns and Degas paintings and museum openings and art, which really class the book up, and make it a thriller for the intellectual set.
A couple of super-minor but niggling critiques: her little band of friends who have not forsaken her at the bar is at least two people too large and not very important overall except for two of them. And her volunteering that she does at the local youth correctional facility doesn't factor at all in the last third of the book, in fact it's kind of dropped. If it doesn't tie into the overall story, I think it needs to go, but these are both really minor.
To this day, none of the artwork has been found, despite a $5 million reward and the statute of limitations on the theft being expired. (The painting featured in the book is fictional.) I actually wish I knew more about both the theft and the Gardner Museum. This book has really intrigued me, and I plan to visit a couple more museums this year, as my appetite for art has been whetted....more
I finished this book last week and I rarely take this long to write a review, but strangely, I really have no strong feelings about this book one wayI finished this book last week and I rarely take this long to write a review, but strangely, I really have no strong feelings about this book one way or the other. It was for my book club, and there were strong feelings there as most people loved it and one hated it, but I felt only mildly pleased. It's weird.
So this memoir is by the rock star Patti Smith, and if you haven't heard of her, like most of our book clubbers, she wrote "Because the Night" (you've probably heard the cover by 10,000 Maniacs) and "Dancing Barefoot" (I first heard this as a cover by U2) and in the end we decided that she's more one of those musicians who's very influential on other musicians - but not wildly popular generally. Anyway, around age 20 after just having given up her illegitimate child for adoption, she hops a bus for New York City with only spare change in her pocket. The friends in Brooklyn she was hoping to stay with aren't actually there, and so she ends up sleeping in doorways and hallways. She lands a job at a bookstore, and keeps running into this skinny but beautiful boy, Robert Mapplethorpe, and after he saves her from a terrible date, they are inseparable. A close couple for many years, they shared everything including their various explorations in art, and while they didn't stay together (obviously - if you know anything at all about Robert Mapplethorpe you probably know he was gay), they were very best friends and stayed incredibly close for not only a long time, but through each of their most formative years, as they were figuring out which respective art forms their artistic expressions would best fit, and as they each found their voices. Robert became a wildly successful and even more controversial artists who used photography, painting, and installations to push the boundaries of art, until he succumbed to AIDS in 1989.
Some book club members were disappointed that while we are told how Patti's life turns out - married with two kids in Detroit - we don't find out how she met her husband or how they made the decisions to leave New York, but I found that all made sense. That was just a footnote. This book was about Patti AND Robert, and when Robert wasn't around anymore, that's the end of the book. This book truly is about their relationship, how they loved and supported each other, how they survived very trying living situations (they were pretty much starving for a few years), how they each developed their own art and influenced each other's as well.
The book flowed smoothly, but it is a little free of action, since she generally doesn't recreate long-ago conversations, just the gist of them. I found it a fast read and fairly compelling, but also a little flat, and she certainly is a name-dropper (funnily, we noted how many people she felt we obviously would be familiar with but that we'd never heard of.) Granted, it's impossible when you are hanging out with Janis Joplin and dating Sam Shepherd, but she did only meet Jimi Hendrix once for 15 minutes and yet she brought it up again and again. Yes, from a career point of view, as aspiring artists, it makes as much sense for them to try to penetrate the art world and meet the top players as it would in any other profession, but it feels a lot more artificial and self-aggrandizing when those people they're trying to meet are Andy Warhol. So this was another debate point- was it natural and normal given that they are aspiring artists? or is it blatant (and annoying) name dropping?
I wished I had loved it more. Or in fact, hated it more. I wished it had evoked stronger feelings in me, but it did not. That said, I certainly seem to be in the minority (it won the National Book Award for nonfiction last year!) so if you're interested, you should give it a try....more
Shawn Colvin's Fat City provided the soundtrack to a large part of my college years. From the tragic honesty of "Monopoly" to the fun of "Tennessee" (Shawn Colvin's Fat City provided the soundtrack to a large part of my college years. From the tragic honesty of "Monopoly" to the fun of "Tennessee" (and it didn't hurt that I am from Tennessee) to the gentleness of "Tenderness on the Block," I felt like I understood Shawn's songs, and she understood me. I went on to get several other of her albums, although none spoke to me in quite the same way, but it might have been the place I was in my life when I first heard her songs that made me connect so much to that particular album.
I am not one for celebrity memoirs, but as soon as I heard this one was coming out, I knew I needed to read it. I needed to understand the woman who wrote lines like, "But imagine the nerve of a God/ Letting me let you in/ And I thought I could let you go in grace/ But I've got to think again." She understood the anger mixed with sadness (and desperation) after a breakup and I needed to hear that someone else had these same feelings (and therefore I wasn't a freak for my own extreme reactions to failed love affairs.)
Luckily, she's a good writer (already kind of knew that from her songwriting.) Being from Nashville, I am not impressed with celebrity trappings, but she seems down to earth and pretty ordinary (in a great way), aside from her job. And it really is a lot like a day job, just with long travel schedules. She does seem to have not-great taste in men, but she's got a great daughter and some great friends (even including some exes). And I truly appreciate how honest she is about how hard the writing part is for her. I hope that will give other aspiring songwriters a realistic idea of what it's like.
I felt like a good friend was catching me up after many years apart. It's the perfect book to curl up with next to a fire with a mug of tea or a glass of wine. Shawn's seen highs and lows, she's had her share of heartbreak, and she's very open, sharing it with all of us. If you're a fan at all, you'll thoroughly enjoy this glimpse behind the curtain (which likely will be brightly patterned.)...more
Louis Comfort Tiffany is known as the creator of the famous Tiffany lamps which we all hope that Antiques Roadshow will tell us that leaded glass lampLouis Comfort Tiffany is known as the creator of the famous Tiffany lamps which we all hope that Antiques Roadshow will tell us that leaded glass lamp in the living room really is. He aspired his whole life to supersede his father's success with Tiffany & Co., but he failed. Despite numerous accolades, awards, and thousands in sales, his expenses always outstripped his income and his father always had to supplement the expenses of Tiffany Glassworks. Tiffany experimented with opalescent glass and enameling and frequently shifted his focus, leaving past projects behind, except for his enormous leaded glass windows, which he thought would be his legacy. Ironically, his legacy has proven to be those lovely lamps, which weren't designed by him at all but by Clara Driscoll, the head of his women's department, who also may have come up with the idea in the first place.
Ms. Vreeland is known for her research and it certainly shows here, perhaps a tad too much. She describes everything in intricate detail, from the kind of headlamp Clara's bicycle uses to the steps for making a leaded glass window to the squalor of the Lower East Side. Some of these details, such as regards the glasswork, were certainly needed if a little confusing, but some were a bit much, as when a gentleman, taking Clara and a friend to his apartment in the Tenderloin to deal with a potentially dangerous situation, momentarily pauses to note his favorite Ragtime song coming out of a nearby window. In addition, a couple were actually wrong regarding the Flatiron Building (where I used to work). It is 22 stories but you cannot take the elevators to the 22nd floor - you can take them to the 21st floor and there is a separate elevator (or take the stairs) to the topmost floor. And when you get there, you can't look down on look down on rooftops, as the top floor is half the size of the other floors and you would be looking at the roof of the 21st floor, and a balustrade of very fat newel posts that completely obstruct the view. You can see rooftops, but at a very shallow angle, so they'd be a couple of blocks away and would be unlikely to make anyone dizzy, even if you were unused to being up that high. If you went down a floor, you could more easily see down, but still not straight down, even with the windows open, as the ornamentation of the facade blocks a straight-down view everywhere in the building (as far as I know). Also, it was not called the Flatiron building when it was built. It was the Fuller Building (which is still engraved on the front of the building) and the nickname of "Flatiron" did come quickly, but not immediately. Not to mention the true origin of the phrase "twenty-three skidoo" is unknown and the theory that it has to do with winds whipping up women's skirts at 23rd street and Broad way is just a theory. Ms. Vreeland mentions in the afterword in a discussion with her editor that in her one trip to New York for research, she did not make it to the Flatiron building, and I sorely wish she had.
I also wish she had left it out entirely. I wish I could read a book set in turn-of-the-last-century New York, and have them not mention the Flatiron building. Speaking as a former resident of the city, I didn't go everywhere and do everything. I didn't ever go up the World Trade Center (yes, I regret) and I didn't go to the UN and I didn't go to Ellis Island. People who live there don't do those touristy things. Not to mention Clara likely was stretching her budget to go to the Jersey shore so frequently. But she seemed to bump into famous people (or her friends did) and go to famous (or not-yet-famous) landmarks and try the latest technologies. I also didn't like how she and her friends referred to themselves as Victorian - did Victorians know they were "Victorians" at the time? I feel like period designations usually come after the fact. And it was distracting to have her going to lunch with a couple of girls in the office and to tell them that a man they were passing was poor and wrote stories and his name was O. Henry. How would she know that? He wasn't successful yet - how on earth would she have recognized him?
I liked the story a lot, I loved the details of how the Tiffany studios worked, the difficulties in the era with women not being allowed in the unions and the men competing with the women for jobs within the studio, and so on. But there was too much showing off of the research done and too many "Forrest Gump" moments in my opinion. The book would have been stronger if she had edited her details more assiduously. ...more
I was a little worried this book was over-hyped, but I liked it pretty well. A friend recently mentioned people either seem to love it or hate it, butI was a little worried this book was over-hyped, but I liked it pretty well. A friend recently mentioned people either seem to love it or hate it, but in the spirit of obstinance, I fall in between the extremes. I liked it pretty well but I wasn't bowled over.
I did not read The Historian so I can't compare the two. But oddly, a comparison that came to mind was The Labrynth by Kate Mosse. I know that comparison might seem odd, but they both are stories told through multiple points-of-biew, contemporaneously and in the past, about ferreting out a secret that would significantly change the way certain things are viewed if it ever comes out, alongside of course finding love.
Initially, I was worried about Kostova's main character being male. That rarely bothers me but this guy semed really soft. However, with his artistic tendancies and his career in psychiatry, it did seem in the end to work. Though, unusually, the book was filled with men who'd long outlived women (Marlowe's father, Henri), not to mention how everyone today hates email and communicates by letter (Marlowe, his father, Mary, the translator - although Marlowe did ask her to mail the letters.) I'm not entirely sure why this was set in 2000 instead of in 2009 or 2010. The foreshadowing created by Marlowe's mentioning of "my wife" was effective if obvious, but that still could have been accomplished if the events had happened just last year. I don't know what that contrivance accomplished.
But overall, the mystery of the woman Robert was obsessed with kept me enthralled. The characters are well-drawn, the discussions of art were both accessible and yet not dumbed-down. There were a few eye-rolling moments for me but luckily they were far-between and minor. Ms. Kostova was effective at bringing to life the fringes of the French 1870s art scene, at describing the gradual consequences of manic-depression (though I don't know why she couldn't ever name it), and at capturing the burgeoning romance of Marlowe and his future wife (to continue the foreshadowing nad not give away spoilers). Several characters are brought out for just one purpose, and then they just disappear, never to be heard from again (the translator, the colleague who'd recommended Marlowe take Robert's case, even Kate to an extent) and I wish there's been a little more balance to that stucture, but that's a pretty minor quibble.
I think most readers will love this romantic mystery, peppered with art and obsession. I liked it quite a bit and it's really gotten me in a mood to read more art-centered books. ...more
After watching Monuments Men, I really wanted to read something about art, so this book was on my shelf and I jumped at it.
John Myatt was a strugglingAfter watching Monuments Men, I really wanted to read something about art, so this book was on my shelf and I jumped at it.
John Myatt was a struggling single father with a background in art who was befriended by John Drewe, who asked if Myatt could paint a reproduction for his house. Myatt needed the money and he was very good at copying others' work, even if his own paintings had never been considered very good. Drewe asked for another and another and another, until Myatt could no longer pretend to know that he must have been selling them. But he needed the money so he turned a blind eye.
Meanwhile Drewe, who periodically described himself as a physicist, professor, military consultant, and spy (none of which turned out to be true), figured out that the key to passing off fakes in the art world wasn't the painting itself--after all even the best painters had off days--but the paperwork behind the paintings. The provenance that purportedly proved the painting had existed previously and been collected and owned by reputable members of the art world. And so he began faking the provenance for what was eventually hundreds of paintings, mostly by twentieth-century artists.
This book was a lovely combination of art, history, crime, and thriller. Would they be caught? How? Would the paintings be exposed? Would Drewe get his comeuppance? I worried the book would be dry and pedantic but my fears couldn't have been further from the truth. I whipped through this smoothly-written book in no time, only wishing there had been a photo insert. It's a fun crime caper but has a ton of research behind it, and Drewe is such a crazy character he could only be real as he'd never be believed in fiction. It was a thoroughly enjoyable book and perfect for any art lover....more
I wanted to like this book. I had heard great things when it first came out. I read and loved Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. I had watched a PBS specialI wanted to like this book. I had heard great things when it first came out. I read and loved Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. I had watched a PBS special about Frank Lloyd Wright by Ken Burns. So I had high hopes. And they were dashed.
For some reason, the author has written the book as if it were written in 1979 by a Japanese man who was one of Wright's assistants in the late 1930s, and then translated by his son in law. He has purportedly done research about all the wives previous to Olgivanna, Wright's wife when our "author" lived and worked at Taliesen, although it is written not as if it were researched by a third party, but from the points-of-view of various people in the story. So chapters are written from the point of view of Kitty, the first wife, Mameh, the first mistress, Miriam, the second wife, Olgivanna, and a few other people. Our "author" writes an introduction to each of the 3 sections of the book which is about himself. There is no author's note giving us readers a clue about whether or not Tadashi is also based on a real person.
So there is this very awkward and elaborate framing done, which intrudes throughout with footnotes from Tadashi, and in the end I found I was still at a loss as to what this frame was supposed to bring to the book, aside from demonstrating Boyle's clever writing skills. Also, the three sections each jumps back in time, which also was jarring and didn't seem to serve much purpose. The only reason for it was to end with the most dramatic event in Wright's life, which does not happen at the end of his life. So that seemed a little like a cop-out. And my other issue was regarding Miriam. She starts out the book. The whole first section which is supposed to be about Olgivanna, is dominated by Miriam (who won't give Frank a divorce so he can marry her.) Then naturally the second section, Miriam's section, is also all about Miriam. But the last 25% of the book, she just vanishes. She's dragged back in the last page as a way to try to balance it out, but one page can't make up for her having just disappeared for more than 100 pages. Finally, I found Boyle's writing long-winded (many sentences go on for paragraphs).
The material is interesting. Wright is a pompous ass and a ladies man, and he desperately wanted to be famous and yet hated journalists, so his life was inevitably going to be interesting. But the book felt very show-offy. I kept getting pulled out of the story by Boyle's many tricks for him to show me another one, when I didn't really care if there was a rabbit in his hat or if he would pick my card out of the deck - I wanted him to leave me alone so I could find out what happened. Good material, poor execution. If this book interests you, please read Loving Frank. I didn't hate it, but it did an excellent job of annoying me throughout. ...more
This was a highly entertaining book, especially if you're interested in art. I never knew the Mona Lisa was stolen, and was even more shocked to discoThis was a highly entertaining book, especially if you're interested in art. I never knew the Mona Lisa was stolen, and was even more shocked to discover that one of the initial arrests in the investigation was of Picasso! While the author occasionally uses more flowery language than I prefer, I believe he was doing that primarily in homage to the writing style of the times (1911). It was easily overlooked, and this fast read zipped along so well, I'd highly recommend it....more
What a fascinating story! I knew nothing about the life of Frank Lloyd Wright and this scandal, and the writing is pretty top-notch. There's not a lotWhat a fascinating story! I knew nothing about the life of Frank Lloyd Wright and this scandal, and the writing is pretty top-notch. There's not a lot of action for stretches and there's some talky philosophical parts, but I really enjoyed it and the end is just shocking....more