A Book About Art: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge 2022

July 4, 2022 | Kasey K

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TPL Reading Challenge 2022

In my previous post on books by trans and non-binary authors, I mentioned that some of this year's categories are so broad I have trouble choosing books for them! This... is one of those categories. There are non-fiction books about artists and art history, but there are also so many novels whose main characters are artists of one kind or another, or for whom art is an extremely important part of their lives! And, if you're like me and really want to overthink it, couldn't any book be described as "about art" in a meta sense, since each book is its own unique contribution to the art of literature?

Ok, ok, I'm going to try not to go that far with my suggestions here. We'll stick to books where art is a significant theme - I'm excited to share my recommendations, as well as those from other TPL staff (I was excited to see lots of recommendations from people working in all kinds of departments and different library positions than we usually get for these posts!), and members of the TPL Reading Challenge Facebook Group! I'll start with my own:

Index (2)

Nonconformers: A New History of Self-Taught Artists by Lisa Slominski

The category of "self-taught" artists includes all of those who were denied access to artistic education, including many women, people with disabilities, and people of color who have had a transformative influence on the history of modern art. Responding to growing interest in these artists, this book offers a nuanced history of their work and how it has been understood from the early twentieth century to the present day. Global in scope, this alternative narrative is an essential introduction to the genre long known as "Outsider Art"

Other Reading Challenge categories:

  • a book published this year


She's Too Pretty to Burn by Wendy Heard

This young adult thriller also qualifies as a great summer read, in my opinion! Fast-paced and hard to put down, the book centres on the adorable but challenging romance between aspiring photographer Veronica and the chronically camera-shy Mick (are you seeing where the tension might come in between them?) It's not just the camera that comes between the two young women, though; Veronica's best friend Nico has big plans for a series of (increasingly disturbing) guerilla art installations this summer and does not like it when Mick starts taking Veronica's time and attention away from his projects. The book will drive you quickly into the tense finale where both women are fighting to make sure they survive the summer.

Other Reading Challenge categories:

  • a book about family
  • a book about mental health
  • a book about a season


Staff Recommendations

And here are some of the recommendations from other TPL staff.

Index (1)

How Do We Look? by Mary Beard

This may be a simplistic way of putting it, but if Kenneth Clark's (traditionally Eurocentric) Civilisation set the standard for the BBC-art-TV-series/companion-book, then John Berger's (Marxist) Ways Of Seeing was a reaction against that. And if that's the case, then more recently, Mary Beard's (Feminist) How Do We Look poses a response to all of the above.

She visits Egypt, Greece, Italy, India, China, and Mexico, among other places, showing us statues and murals, and asking us to put ourselves in the shoes of the ancients. She shows us how not to look at these works necessarily as art in the modern sense, but as something more utilitarian, e.g., guardian, calligraphy-as-pattern-design, fetish object imbued with supernatural power, offering, warning, etc. In some cases, the object isn't necessarily meant to be viewed or enjoyed by mortal human beings at all!

—Cameron, Digital Design Technician

Index (1)

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone

I read this book a long, long time back but the fervour, passion and talent of Michelangelo left an imprint on my mind. When I saw the Sistine Chapel and the statue of David, sometime back in Italy, I could trace the creative zeal, the highs, the lows, and the anguish of the artist. A Canadian connection here is the author’s collaboration with well-known Canadian sculptor and colour lithographer, Stanley Lewis. A great read if you are interested in art and the biography of a famous artist, sculptor and painter.

Other Reading Challenge categories:

  • A book about someone who is not alive

—Radha, Senior Branch Head

Index (1)

Second Place by Rachel Cusk

This novel is about a privileged woman—M—and her relationship with an aging, and perhaps fading, celebrated painter whom she has long admired. She offers him refuge at a studio adjacent to her coastal home. He settles in and begins to wield a kind of power over M that upends her sense of herself. As he becomes more unruly with his young companion, all of M's relationships—with her husband, her daughter and her partner—start to dissolve.

Among other things, the book is about what we mean when we talk about "art" and how that influences and challenges our sense of ourselves. As with other works by Cusk (in particular, the recently completed Outline trilogy), Second Place is written in a compelling, spare style, full of unspoken meaning and drama.

Other Reading Challenge categories:

  • A book about family

—Joel, Librarian

Index (2)

The Louvre: All the Paintings edited by Erich Lessing and Vincent Pomarede

This is a must-read guide if you've always wanted to learn about the paintings, their histories and what to discover in the Louvre's vast collection. It is an extraordinary guide, published in full color, sorted by artist and provides insightful biographical notes about the artists, as well as statistical information including dimensions and locations within the museum.

—Nicholas, Page


Pollak's Arm by Hans von Trotha

A fictionalized account of the life of art collector and dealer Ludwig Pollak, told on the day of his last chance to escape the Nazis by fleeing to the Vatican where he had been highly valued as a collector, dealer and archaeologist.

While preparing to flee, Pollak delivers monologues tracing his life and those of his Jewish ancestors trying to survive in Europe for generations, sometimes rising between expulsions and worse by twists and turns, only to suffer a horrific fall in the face of the swell of fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany. A story of the fragility of humanity, person by person, people by people.

Other Reading Challenge categories:

  • A book about someone who is not alive
  • A book that takes place in a single day

—Steven, Senior Library Assistant - Cataloguing


Sister Wendy's Grand Tour: Discovering Europe's Great Art by Wendy Beckett

I'd recommend anything from Sister Wendy. She has such passion for art and she helps you see what makes a piece interesting or "new" or great.

—Linda, Requirements and Quality Assurance Analyst


French Recommendations

If you like to read in French, check out the list of recommended books for "les arts" - there's a mix of books, ebooks and digital audiobooks to try!


Recommendations from the Facebook Group

These are just some of the suggested titles from our Facebook TPL Reading Challenge 2022 discussion group:

You can read all of the responses in the original post. You do not need a Facebook account to read the suggestions.

What would you recommend for "a book about art”? Add your suggestions in the comments section below.