You made me read it: The Art Forger

B. A. Shapiro, The Art Forger (2012)

For my blog anniversary this year, I celebrated with a Make Me Read It giveaway, meaning the winner got to select a book from my TBR pile for both of us to read. Congratulations to R-J, who chose to receive a copy of The Art Forger, which I sent for her reading pleasure. I then promptly misplaced my own copy, but fortunately the ebook was available from the library, and I could read it in a timely fashion. Thanks, R-J, for helping me knock one more book off the pile!

The Art Forger plays off the real-life theft of thirteen works of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston, a horrendous crime that has never been solved. To the actual facts of the case, it adds an imaginary work by Degas which is brought to a young, struggling artist to copy. The dealer who brings it (claiming he knows nothing about the rest of the stolen goods) suggests that this will enable the original to be returned to the museum; despite the shadiness of the deal, Claire is unable to resist the temptation to live with and paint a real Degas. Except that once she starts working, she begins to have some suspicions that all is not as it seems…

Claire has a backstory involving a past boyfriend and another dubiously attributed work of art, which is gradually revealed in flashbacks from the main narrative. She can’t get out of the shadow of this disaster and have her own work recognized, another reason she’s lured into a deal that from the reader’s vantage point seems like a really, really bad idea, not to mention another terrible relationship. A series of imaginary letters from Isabella Gardner further thickens the plot, and Claire must also unravel an unexpected mystery there.

While I was intrigued by the connection to the heist and to the art world of Boston, I found The Art Forger to be somewhat plodding in its style and not very visually stimulating. It’s not easy to write about visual art, especially contemporary art, whose appeal most often eludes me, and Shapiro’s descriptions of Claire’s “amazing” paintings of windows (???) did not convince me. The letters allegedly by “Belle” also didn’t quite ring true, though I’ve not read any of her few existing letters for comparison. I found the subplot they involved to be silly at best and at worst insulting to the historical figures involved. It’s also not easy to combine fact and fiction in this way, and Shapiro’s characters mostly fell flat for me.

So, although there was enough suspense to keep me turning the pages, I found this a forgettable diversion, not holding a candle to my very favorite novel about art and forgery, What’s Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies. Some other fiction about art and artists I’ve enjoyed are The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary, Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, and Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood.

Did you read The Art Forger? How do you think it measures up to other books about the art world? Or do you have other favorites in this field to recommend?


Witch Week Day Four: A Gallery of Arthurian Art

With so many magical and dramatic characters and scenes to explore, the Arthurian legend has long been a rich source of inspiration for artists and illustrators. To complement our literary studies, I thought it would be fun this year to look at some pictures as well. Here are a few images that caught my eye, all drawn from The Camelot Project, a great resource for anyone interested in the subject.


Arthur Rackham – How a Maiden Bare in the Sangreal


H.J. Ford – Excalibur Returns to the Mere


The High Mysterious Call – Willy Pogany


Julia Margaret Cameron – Vivien Enchants Merlin


He gave him such a buffet on the helm – W. Russell Flint


Max Harshberger – Tristan Harping


Aubrey Beardsley – How Four Queens Found Launcelot Sleeping


Edward Burne-Jones – The Sleep of King Arthur in Avalon


Gustave Dore – The Enchanter and His Book


William Holman Hunt – The Lady of Shalott

Do you have favorite Arthurian artists or works of art? Please share them in the comments!

Words and Pictures: This I would fight for

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog

And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.

John Steinbeck, East of Eden (1952)
Image: Caspar David Friedrich, found here

Linked in Blogging the Spirit hosted by Relevant Obscurity

Words and Pictures: Pruned Oak

Landscape with an Old Oak Tree, Adriaen van Ostaede – 1650 (source)

Pruned Oak

Oh oak tree, how they have pruned you.
Now you stand odd and strangely shaped!
You were hacked a hundred times
until you had nothing left but spite and will!

I am like you, so many insults and humiliations
could not shatter my link with life.
And every day I raise my head
beyond countless insults toward new light.
What in me was once gentle, sweet, and tender
this world has ridiculed to death.
But my true self cannot be murdered.
I am at peace and reconciled.
I grow new leaves with patience
from branches hacked a hundred times.
In spite of all the pain and sorrow
I’m still in love with this mad, mad world.

— Hermann Hesse

From The Seasons of the Soul: The Poetic Guidance and Spiritual Wisdom of Hermann Hesse, translated and with commentary by Ludwig Max Fischer, published by North Atlantic Books, original work in German copyright © 2011 Surhkamp Verlag Berlin. Reprinted by permission of North Atlantic Books; please do not copy without permission.

Author Guest Post: The Lover’s Path

Hard on the heels of the Dante-inspired In a Dark Wood, I had the opportunity to join in the blog tour for The Lover’s Path, which is spreading the word about new electronic editions of a beautiful “illustrated novella of Venice” by author-artist Kris Waldherr. This atmospheric story of forbidden romance is complemented by brief vignettes about lovers throughout history and legend, sensitively portrayed in rich, glowing images. Presented as if it were an artifact from the “Museo di Palazzo Filomela,” with attendant notes, maps, and museum information, it melds history and imagination in a way that will intrigue and delight lovers of Renaissance art and classical mythology.

The original print edition was a deluxe production with removable letters and other tactile features that greatly enhanced the reading experience; the e-book is available in several forms, including from PDF to Kindle to full-color interactive editions. I was curious about how the author found the process of transferring this unique content into a digital form, and pleased that she agreed to share her thoughts. It turns out that to create the e-book, she had to reimagine the whole project — and added much new and unique content in the process. Read on to learn more about her path of design discovery.


The Rebirth of The Lover’s Path by Kris Waldherr

printeditionloverspathOf all my books, The Lover’s Path is one of my favorites. It was also one of my most complex to write, design, and illustrate. The Lover’s Path took a full decade of work before it was finally published in 2005 by Abrams Books as a full color gift book. And now, another decade later, I’m delighted it is finally available as an e-book—a rebirth that almost didn’t happen.

Set in Renaissance Venice, The Lover’s Path was inspired by the true story of a courtesan named Tullia d’Aragona and her younger sister. It included illustrations, artifacts, and love myths from a faux museum called the Museo di Palazzo Filomela. The print book included letters, tarot cards, and other tactile elements. Though I’d obtained digital rights from the publisher in 2012, I couldn’t bring myself to begin work on it. It was too overwhelming. Another road block: the square dimensions of the print book didn’t translate well for e-readers, which are more horizontal of proportion. Was there any way I could make my book more beautiful, more emotionally satisfying, more interactive as an e-book? I couldn’t see how. No matter how exquisitely I designed the digital edition, it wouldn’t be the same.

loverspathdrawingI was about to consign The Lover’s Path to the halls of Beloved Books of Years Past. We’ll always have Venice, I told myself. Then I realized: the best way forward was a new way forward. This eureka moment gave me the creative freedom to treat the digital book as a separate entity from the print. So hooray!

Here’s how The Lover’s Path has been reborn for a new world: Not only does the digital edition sport a lovely new cover, the text has been expanded to flesh out the story. (The text in the original print edition was kept short because of cost—four color books are uber-expensive to produce.) I was also able to add new “artifacts” from the Museo di Palazzo Filomela in an expanded chapter. Coolest of all, the iPad edition even includes interactive graphics and maps.

As a result, I believe the e-book is a much richer, more immersive literary and artistic experience than the print edition, as lovely as it was. However, what pleases me most is that The Lover’s Path is now a living book, which can be updated at will. For example, I plan to record a sound walk in Venice this summer; this will find its way into future multimedia editions.

Now that the e-book edition of The Lover’s Path is here at last, I am so excited to share it with the world. And remember, to truly love another, you must walk along the lover’s path wherever it may lead you.


Kris Waldherr is the author and illustrator of The Lover’s Path: An Illustrated Novella of Venice, which is now available for the first time as an e-book. She is also the author of Doomed Queens: Royal Women Who Met Bad Ends, The Book of Goddesses, and many other books and card decks. Learn more at