Eight Beautiful Books Set in the Art World

February 24 2015
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There are plenty of beautiful, hefty coffee table books out there about art and art history, artists and architecture. But what about works of fiction or memoir that are set in the art world? These eight books about the importance of art and perception, beauty and transcendence, will have you running to the nearest museum—or bookstore.

Bel Canto
by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett’s 2001 novel is set somewhere in South America at a birthday party hosted by the country’s vice president. Rozanne Coss, opera’s most revered soprano, has just finished a mesmerizing performance when a band of terrorists breaks into the house and holds everyone for ransom. Salon calls Bel Canto “a story of passionate, doomed love; of the glory of art; of the triumph of our shared humanity over the forces that divide us.” OTS calls it “the most elegant, meditative hostage-takeover novel ever.”

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Bel Canto
Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett’s 2001 novel is set somewhere in South America at a birthday party hosted by the country’s vice president. Rozanne Coss, opera’s most revered soprano, has just finished a mesmerizing performance when a band of terrorists breaks into the house and holds everyone for ransom. Salon calls Bel Canto “a story of passionate, doomed love; of the glory of art; of the triumph of our shared humanity over the forces that divide us.” OTS calls it “the most elegant, meditative hostage-takeover novel ever.”

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

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MENTIONED IN:

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The Blazing World
by Siri Hustvedt

Intellectually ambitious, electric in its prose, and emotionally satisfying, The Blazing World confronts the joy and fury of Harriet Burden, an artist whose work has long been dismissed and ignored by the male-dominated art world. Longlisted for 2014’s prestigious Man Booker Prize and described by NPR as “complex, astonishing, harrowing, and utterly, completely engrossing,” it is a polyphonic tour de force from one of America’s most fearless writers.

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The Blazing World
Siri Hustvedt

Intellectually ambitious, electric in its prose, and emotionally satisfying, The Blazing World confronts the joy and fury of Harriet Burden, an artist whose work has long been dismissed and ignored by the male-dominated art world. Longlisted for 2014’s prestigious Man Booker Prize and described by NPR as “complex, astonishing, harrowing, and utterly, completely engrossing,” it is a polyphonic tour de force from one of America’s most fearless writers.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo

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The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde’s timeless classic tells the story of Dorian Gray, the subject of a full-length portrait in oil by Basil Hallward, an artist who is impressed and infatuated with Dorian’s beauty. As Dorian Gray sinks into a life of crime and gross sensuality, his body retains perfect youth and vigor while his portrait ages and fades and grows into a hideous record of evil, which he must keep hidden from the world.

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The Picture of Dorian Gray
Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde’s timeless classic tells the story of Dorian Gray, the subject of a full-length portrait in oil by Basil Hallward, an artist who is impressed and infatuated with Dorian’s beauty. As Dorian Gray sinks into a life of crime and gross sensuality, his body retains perfect youth and vigor while his portrait ages and fades and grows into a hideous record of evil, which he must keep hidden from the world.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

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Close
The Importance of Being Iceland: Travel Essays in Art
by Eileen Myles

Legendary queer poet and novelist Eileen Myles collects her art criticism and travel essays in The Importance of Being Iceland. The essays include fresh takes on Thoreau’s Cape Cod walk, working-class speech, James Schulyer and Björk, queer Russia and Robert Smithson, as well as opinions on such widely ranging subjects as filmmaker Sadie Benning, actor Daniel Day-Lewis, and Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets.

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The Importance of Being Iceland: Travel Essays in Art
Eileen Myles

Legendary queer poet and novelist Eileen Myles collects her art criticism and travel essays in The Importance of Being Iceland. The essays include fresh takes on Thoreau’s Cape Cod walk, working-class speech, James Schulyer and Björk, queer Russia and Robert Smithson, as well as opinions on such widely ranging subjects as filmmaker Sadie Benning, actor Daniel Day-Lewis, and Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo Indiebound logo

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Close
Girl with a Pearl Earring
by Tracy Chevalier

Set in seventeenth-century Holland, Tracy Chevalier’s 1999 historical novel was inspired by Johannes Vermeer’s painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and tells the story of Griet, whose life is transformed by her brief encounter with a genius as she herself is immortalized in canvas and oil.

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Girl with a Pearl Earring
Tracy Chevalier

Johannes Vermeer’s GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING has remained a beautiful enigma for centuries. In her atmospheric novel, Tracy Chevalier imagines the painting’s subject to be a young girl hired by the Vermeer household, whose rise from maid to assistant to model brings with it a world of jealousy, intimacy, and secrets.

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Point Omega
by Don DeLillo

Richard Elster is a scholar who was recruited to help the military conceptualize the war. At the end of his service he retreats to the desert and is joined there by a filmmaker, Jim Finley, and by Elster’s daughter, Jessica—an “otherworldly” woman from New York. The three of them build a tender intimacy, something like a family—then a devastating event turns detachment into colossal grief. Publishers Weekly writes that Finley is “a middle-aged filmmaker who, in the words of his estranged wife, is too serious about art but not serious enough about life.”

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Point Omega
Don DeLillo

Richard Elster is a scholar who was recruited to help the military conceptualize the war. At the end of his service he retreats to the desert and is joined there by a filmmaker, Jim Finley, and by Elster’s daughter, Jessica—an “otherworldly” woman from New York. The three of them build a tender intimacy, something like a family—then a devastating event turns detachment into colossal grief. Publishers Weekly writes that Finley is “a middle-aged filmmaker who, in the words of his estranged wife, is too serious about art but not serious enough about life.”

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo

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Close
Swimming Studies
by Leanne Shapton

Leanne Shapton, formerly the illustrations editor at The New York Times, has written a beautiful, fragmented, meditative memoir in Swimming Studies. From her training for the Olympic trials as a teenager to enjoying pools and beaches around the world as an adult, Leanne Shapton offers a fascinating glimpse into the private, often solitary, realm of swimming. Her spare and elegant writing reveals an intimate narrative of suburban adolescence, spent underwater in a discipline that continues to inspire Shapton’s work as an artist and author. To read more about Swimming Studies, here's our review.

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Swimming Studies
Leanne Shapton

Leanne Shapton, formerly the illustrations editor at The New York Times, has written a beautiful, fragmented, meditative memoir in Swimming Studies. From her training for the Olympic trials as a teenager to enjoying pools and beaches around the world as an adult, Leanne Shapton offers a fascinating glimpse into the private, often solitary, realm of swimming. Her spare and elegant writing reveals an intimate narrative of suburban adolescence, spent underwater in a discipline that continues to inspire Shapton’s work as an artist and author. To read more about Swimming Studies, here's our review.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo

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By Off the Shelf Staff | January 7, 2022

Close
The Flamethrowers
by Rachel Kushner

An ambitious literary novel set in Rome, New York, and the desert of the American West in the late 1970s, The Flamethrowers captures the idealism and hypocrisy of art, politics, and violence. A National Book Award finalist and selected as one of the ten best books of 2013 by The New York Times, it confirmed Rachel Kushner’s emerging reputation as a writer of spectacular talent and imagination.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo


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The Flamethrowers
Rachel Kushner

An ambitious literary novel set in Rome, New York, and the desert of the American West in the late 1970s, The Flamethrowers captures the idealism and hypocrisy of art, politics, and violence. A National Book Award finalist and selected as one of the ten best books of 2013 by The New York Times, it confirmed Rachel Kushner’s emerging reputation as a writer of spectacular talent and imagination.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo

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By Off the Shelf Staff | January 12, 2022

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By Alice Martin | January 11, 2022

7 Lyrical Stories That’ll Take Your Breath Away

By Holly Claytor | January 10, 2022

January eBook Deals: 15 Superb Reads for Your Digital Library

By Off the Shelf Staff | January 7, 2022

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