Gallery 6 at the Gibbes Museum in Charleston (Photo credit: MCG Photography)
Wednesday, March 25, 2020 Charleston County Library

CHARLESTON, S.C. - No one knows books and gives better recommendations than librarians. That's one of our favorite things to do, and we spend a lot of time researching and reading new books and old ones to keep our recommendations fresh. 

With our branches closed to the public, having those conversations is a lot more difficult. But it's not impossible! And that's why CCPL's librarians have been digging through our digital resources to build list upon list of digital recommendations.

This book list compiled by Kate Hudson at Main Library is special because it also involves one of our great programming partners, the Gibbes Museum. We enjoy storytimes and book discussions at the Gibbes, so it made sense to put together a collection of downloadable titles focused on art and artists. 

So check out the list, and add them to your reading list during the quarantine. And cehck back in Saturday for a museum filed trip to the Gibbes! We'll explore an exhibit and offer up an art project for everyone to do at home. 

 

The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

With precisely 35 canvases to his credit, the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer represents one of the great enigmas of 17th-century art. The meager facts of his biography have been gleaned from a handful of legal documents. Yet Vermeer's extraordinary paintings of domestic life, with their subtle play of light and texture, have come to define the Dutch golden age. His portrait of the anonymous Girl with a Pearl Earring has exerted a particular fascination for centuries - and it is this magnetic painting that lies at the heart of Tracy Chevalier's second novel of the same title.

Girl with a Pearl Earring centers on Vermeer's prosperous Delft household during the 1660s. When Griet, the novel's quietly perceptive heroine, is hired as a servant, turmoil follows. First, the 16-year-old narrator becomes increasingly intimate with her master. Then Vermeer employs her as his assistant--and ultimately has Griet sit for him as a model. 

 

A Room with a View by E. M. Forster | OverDrive audio

This Edwardian social comedy explores love and prim propriety among an eccentric cast of characters assembled in an Italian pensione and in a corner of Surrey, England. A charming young English woman, Lucy Honeychurch, faints into the arms of a fellow Britisher when she witnesses a murder in a Florentine piazza. Attracted to this man, George Emerson—who is entirely unsuitable and whose father just may be a Socialist—Lucy is soon at war with the snobbery of her class and her own conflicting desires. Back in England she is courted by a more acceptable, if stifling, suitor, and soon realizes she must make a startling decision that will decide the course of her future: she is forced to choose between convention and passion. The enduring delight of this tale of romantic intrigue is rooted in Forster's colorful characters, including outrageous spinsters, pompous clergymen and outspoken patriots. Written in 1908, A Room With A View is one of E.M. Forster's earliest and most celebrated works.

 

War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans | OverDrive audio

The life of Urbain Martien—artist, soldier, survivor of World War I—lies contained in two notebooks he left behind when he died in 1981. In War and Turpentine, his grandson, a writer, retells his grandfather's story, the notebooks providing a key to the locked chambers of Urbain's memory.

With vivid detail, the grandson recounts a whole life: Urbain as the child of a lowly church painter, retouching his father's work;dodging death in a foundry; fighting in the war that altered the course of history; marrying the sister of the woman he truly loved; being haunted by an ever-present reminder of the artist he had hoped to be and the soldier he was forced to become. Wrestling with this tale, the grandson straddles past and present, searching for a way to understand his own part in both. As artfully rendered as a Renaissance fresco, War and Turpentine paints an extraordinary portrait of one man's life and reveals how that life echoed down through the generations.

 

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt | OverDrive audio

In a new novel called "searingly fresh... A Nabokovian cat's cradle" on the cover of The New York Times Book Review, the internationally bestselling author tells the provocative story of artist Harriet Burden, who, after years of having her work ignored, ignites an explosive scandal in New York's art world when she recruits three young men to present her creations as their own. Yet when the shows succeed and Burden steps forward for her triumphant reveal, she is betrayed by the third man, Rune. Many critics side with him, and Burden and Rune find themselves in a charged and dangerous game, one that ends in his bizarre death.

An intricately conceived, diabolical puzzle presented as a collection of texts, including Harriet's journals, assembled after her death, this "glorious mashup of storytelling and scholarship" (San Francisco Chronicle) unfolds from multiple perspectives as Harriet's critics, fans, family, and others offer their own conflicting opinions of where the truth lies. Writing in Slate, Katie Roiphe declared it "a spectacularly good read...feminism in the tradition of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex or Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own: richly complex, densely psychological, dazzlingly nuanced."

"Astonishing, harrowing, and utterly, completely engrossing" (NPR), Hustvedt's new novel is "Blazing indeed:...with agonizing compassion for all of wounded humanity"(Kirkus Reviews, starred review). It is a masterpiece that will be remembered for years to come.

 

The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer | OverDrive audio

She went to Paris to start over, to make art instead of being made into it. A captivating debut novel by Whitney Scharer, The Age of Light tells the story of Vogue model turned renowned photographer Lee Miller, and her search to forge a new identity as an artist after a life spent as a muse. "I'd rather take a photograph than be one," she declares after she arrives in Paris in 1929, where she soon catches the eye of the famous Surrealist Man Ray. Though he wants to use her only as a model, Lee convinces him to take her on as his assistant and teach her everything he knows. But Man Ray turns out to be an egotistical, charismatic force, and as they work together in the darkroom, their personal and professional lives become intimately entwined, changing the course of Lee's life forever. Lee's journey takes us from the cabarets of bohemian Paris to the battlefields of war-torn Europe during WWII, from discovering radical new photography techniques to documenting the liberation of the concentration camps as one of the first female war correspondents. Through it all, Lee must grapple with the question of whether it's possible to reconcile romantic desire with artistic ambition-and what she will have to sacrifice to do so. Told in interweaving timelines, this sensuous, richly detailed novel brings Lee Miller-a brilliant and pioneering artist-out of the shadows of a man's legacy and into the light.

 

How to Be Both by Ali Smith

Passionate, compassionate, vitally inventive and scrupulously playful, Ali Smith's novels are like nothing else. A true original, she is a one-of-a-kind literary sensation. Her novels consistently attract serious acclaim and discussion--and have won her a dedicated readership who are drawn again and again to the warmth, humanity and humor of her voice.

How to be both is a novel all about art's versatility. Borrowing from painting's fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it's a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There's a Renaissance artist of the 1460s. There's the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real--and all life's givens get given a second chance.

 

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith | OverDrive audio

This is what we long for: the profound pleasure of being swept into vivid new worlds, worlds peopled by characters so intriguing and real that we can't shake them, even long after the reading's done. In his earlier, award-winning novels, Dominic Smith demonstrated a gift for coaxing the past to life. Now, in The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, he deftly bridges the historical and the contemporary, tracking a collision course between a rare landscape by a female Dutch painter of the golden age, an inheritor of the work in 1950s Manhattan, and a celebrated art historian who painted a forgery of it in her youth.

In 1631, Sara de Vos is admitted as a master painter to the Guild of St. Luke's in Holland, the first woman to be so recognized. Three hundred years later, only one work attributed to de Vos is known to remain—a haunting winter scene, At the Edge of a Wood, which hangs over the bed of a wealthy descendant of the original owner. An Australian grad student, Ellie Shipley, struggling to stay afloat in New York, agrees to paint a forgery of the landscape, a decision that will haunt her. Because now, half a century later, she's curating an exhibit of female Dutch painters, and both versions threaten to arrive. As the three threads intersect, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos mesmerizes while it grapples with the demands of the artistic life, showing how the deceits of the past can forge the present.

 

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt | OverDrive audio

A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an explosion that takes the life of his mother. Alone and determined to avoid being taken in by the city as an orphan, Theo scrambles between nights in friends' apartments and on the city streets. He becomes entranced by the one thing that reminds him of his mother: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that soon draws Theo into the art underworld.

Composed with the skills of a master, The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America. It is a story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the enormous power of art.

 

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

A beautiful young man, Dorian Gray, sits for a portrait. In the garden of the artist's house he falls into conversation with Lord Wotton, who convinces him that only beauty is worth pursuing. Gray wishes that his portrait, and not himself, might age and show the effects of time. His wish comes true, and wild, hedonistic pursuits horribly disfigure the portrait. This Faustian story caused much controversy when it was first published, as it discusses decadent art and culture, and homosexuality. It is now considered one of the great pieces of modern Western literature.

 

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

The serene and maternal Mrs. Ramsay, the tragic yet absurd Mr. Ramsay, and their children and assorted guests are on holiday on the Isle of Skye. From the seemingly trivial postponement of a visit to a nearby lighthouse, Woolf constructs a remarkable, moving examination of the complex tensions and allegiances of family life and the conflict between men and women.

As time winds its way through their lives, the Ramsays face, alone and simultaneously, the greatest of human challenges and its greatest triumph—the human capacity for change.