I’m a fast reader (but unfortunately not a fast writer). I’m not trying to brag here, it’s just a fact. And in truth, sometimes I really wish I didn’t read so fast. While this skill is great when it comes to textbooks and scholarly articles, growing up it did mean that half of my suitcase was always devoted to books to read while traveling. And books are heavy. My Kindle has made traveling a lot easier these past few years, but I’m still a firm believer that there’s a use for both e-readers and real live books. And I usually am in the process of reading a good handful of books at any given time – I like to switch back and forth among them.
I’m also a firm believer in getting suggestions for books from other people. Obviously this works best if you know the person and/or their likes and dislikes so you can judge their recommendations – but there really is nothing better than sharing a book you love with a friend and seeing what they thought of it! In that vein, I’m going to share with y’all the stack of books currently sitting on my coffee table waiting to be finished.
Van Gogh: The Life – Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith
I love Van Gogh, but I dallied on picking up this biography for a year or so after it was published. Naifeh and Smith did some seriously impressive research into their subject, but I’d heard they drew some iffy conclusions, so I was unsure I wanted to bother reading it. Boy am I glad I finally gave in. I may only be halfway into this 800+ page bio, but it’s absolutely amazing. Van Gogh led an extremely interesting (and short) life that’s largely unknown to the public who loves his paintings. Worth the read if you’ve ever lost your thoughts in the sky in ‘Starry Night’ or had a poster of ‘Cafe Terrace at Night’ on your dorm’s wall.
Shogun – James Clavell
Another long book (I might have some masochistic reading tendencies I need to look into), Shogun is a great fictional novel that also boasts an impressive amount of background research (before the invention of the internet, no less!). I picked it up in my gym’s “library” off my mom’s recommendation, and 3 days later I’m 400 pages in. This novel has that same hallmark of all great historical fiction – it makes you feel as though you’re actually in 16th century Japan instead of on your front porch in muggy 21st century New Orleans.
(Interesting fact I just discovered – James Clavell wrote the screenplays for “The Fly” and “The Great Escape” as well!)
Saving Italy – Robert Edsel
This is Edsel’s follow-up to The Monuments Men, which you may have actually heard of since George Clooney is making it into a movie that will be released in December! This book focuses on the Allied efforts to save art and monuments from destruction in Italy during WWII. Edsel’s scholarly presentation over the years has not been without faults (check out the Holocaust Art Restitution Project to see what’s currently happening with the art not saved from Nazi hands or destruction), but his research is pretty sound and it’s an interesting look at just how close so many priceless pieces of art came to being obliterated by mankind.
Kokoschka is one of my favorite (and, I think, one of the most underrated) artists of the 20th century. His expressionistic oil landscapes are absolutely stunning, and I only wish he got more love from the public. I found this collection of his letters at a used bookstore here in Nola just last week and I’m excited to see if I love his writing style just as much as his paintings.
(The best collection of writings by a painter I’ve ever read remains Eugene Delacroix’s journal. Amazing.)
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson
I’m actually re-reading this book for the 3rd time (and if that isn’t a recommendation I don’t know what is!), but it really is just that good. I bought this on Kindle for a plane ride to Germany last fall and found myself laughing out loud on the plane, prompting some strange looks from strangers and family alike. The title gives you the premise of the story, but this book is so much more than just a silly title. The protagonist has, over his 100 years of life, found himself in the middle of some of the biggest historical events of the 20th century, almost entirely by accident. It’s a modern-day Forrest Gump, with less of the “Jenny!” and a bit more Swedish literary humor. Which, if you haven’t had any experience with before, is really fantastic.
That’s actually it for now on my coffee table. I’ve been whittling my stack down in preparation for a couple of art books I just bought during Phaidon Publishing’s flash sale. But I’ll need some new books after I finish those, so let me know in the comments what you’re reading! And let me know if you read any of the above and find yourself laughing (or crying, or groaning, etc) in public. That involuntary reaction is, after all, my favorite part of reading. 🙂