Summer Reading List: Art-Inspired Novels for Everyone!

A page from my collage zine "l'invisible" was inspired by Carol Shield’s novel "Swann: A Mystery" about Mary Swann an unknown poet.

A page from my collage zine "l'invisible" was inspired by Carol Shield’s novel "Swann: A Mystery" about Mary Swann an unknown poet.

Recently I ran across Alyson Stanfield’s Art Biz Coach Blog which listed some great summer reading featuring fiction novels with artists as their main characters. It was such a great idea that it had me wondering what books I’d include on my list. The stuff in my favourite novels is always swimming around in my head while I’m making art, that’s why I highly recommend incorporating reading fiction into your art practice – it’s a never-ending source of inspiration for art and life. In fact, the collage pictured above was inspired from a book on my summer 2013 reading list which follows…

The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
Not as sci-fi as the title suggests but more of a reality-based novel. I know what you’re thinking – how can time travel be based in reality? Well, if it was a reality how would a wife cope if she was married to a husband who time travelled? This intriguing thought propels Niffenegger’s story! In this brick of a novel (I prayed would never end!), Clare, a paper sculptor, meets her husband to-be, Henry DeTamble, when she’s just six years old and he’s a middle-aged man! It’s a romantic, bittersweet adventure full of emotional complications. I highly recommend it. I hear the movie version is very good, too.

Map of Glass (Jane Urquhart)
During spring thaw, while documenting a series of decaying fences, photographer Jerome McNaughton finds the body of Andrew Woodman encased in a block of ice. He strikes up a friendship with, Sylvia Bradley, Woodman’s mistress and together the histories of these two unlikely friends unfold as they investigate the dead man’s notebooks. So sensitively written by Uruquart… if you want to get lost in the wilderness and learn more about the histories of settlers here in Canada, this is a great one to read.

Effigy (Alissa York)
Dorrie, an admirable artist in her own right, grants dead creatures eternal life through her role as a taxidermist. She’s so gifted that at age fourteen she becomes the youngest bride of a Mormon, Erastus Hammer, a polygamous horse rancher and renowned hunter. Elder wives, wolves, nightmares of crows add to the tension of the novel including a love interest – a dark thriller!

The Mermaid Chair (Sue Monk Kidd)
Legend has it that a beautiful mermaid once lived on Egret Island where our heroine, Jessie Sullivan, now a married, middle-aged artist painter grew up. Returning to care for her ailing, estranged mother, she begins an affair with a would-be monk about to take his religious vows. More than torrid romance, this novel reveals Jessie’s coming to terms with her marriage; her taking a stand for her independence and facing a long-buried family secret. Actress Kim Basinger starred in a wonderful film adaptation of the novel – which is such a tear jerker. In the movie, I love the way the fashion and hair production team made gorgeous Basinger look like a mermaid… you’ll want to get out your old crimping iron after you see this one!

Duma Key (Stephen King)
I’ve been a fan of King’s novels ever since I was a teenager. In this tale, Edgar Freemantle, a man on the verge of divorcing his wife turns to drawing and painting while recovering from a terrible accident in which he loses his right arm. Gaining a new (haunted) limb and opting for a change of scenery, he moves from Minnesota to Florida’s Duma Key, an enchanted island with a dubious past. Here his skill for painting improves in leaps and bounds until he becomes a veritable Daliesque painter clamoured for by the local contemporary art establishment – wouldn’t we all love that! King captures the bedraggled human condition so perfectly. I love the way he builds close relationships between his characters. He has a wicked sense of humour, too. I wish they would turn this story into a film!

Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
Artists abound in this historical epic set in the Gothic period. There’s Tom Builder an incredible architect who designs and erects cathedrals and young Jack, a handsome skilled stone carver with a mysterious past. One of the characters in this novel, Lady Aliena, a noble woman unfairly stripped of her title who becomes a thriving wool merchant, inspired my foray into the world of business! There are so many characters in this novel you’ll absolutely love and love to hate! If you appreciate history and architecture, Follett exquisitely crafts his tale in exciting detail which reveals the social, political and economic context surrounding the creation of these magnificent edifices which are literary a little piece of heaven here on earth! A recent television mini-series captured the spirit of this novel brilliantly!

Swann: A Mystery (Carol Shields)
Mary Swann, the wife of a poverty-stricken farmer, is found violently murdered by her husband. This lonely, uneducated poet’s work gathers a great following many years after her death. Working from a bag of poetry scraps left behind by Swann, feminist academic Sarah Maloney attempts to piece together the poet’s life for an upcoming symposium. We learn Swann’s story through a number of characters who shape her story to suit their own purposes. Can academics, historians and even those close to an artist truly know the intimate details of an artist’s life or what made them tick? This novel skilfully explores that question. It’s also the novel that played a role in inspiring a page from my latest collage zine pictured (above)… I couldn’t help but wonder if the woman in Andrew Wyeth’s painting “Christina’s World” (1948) might be Mary Swann herself – just moments before her untimely demise…

And there you have it! There are some links to movie and television trailers below as well as a far-out taxidermy blog which features the work of contemporary artists using the medium to create some hair-raising pieces! If you have any art-related fiction recommendations, I’d love to hear them.

Other Related Links:
The Time Traveller’ Wife Movie Trailer
The Mermaid Chair Movie Trailer
Pillars of the Earth TV Series Trailer
Ravishing Beasts: Taxidermy (blog)
Collage Your World 2012 Zine

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