Laura and I recently went into an art gallery. We were out shopping and stopped in on a whim. For some reason I always think I will enjoy going into such a place. But I rarely do. I don’t get art. It doesn’t make sense to me. I can appreciate the great skill it takes to create a certain piece, and even enjoy the colors on the canvas. But usually I think, “Why would someone bother to draw, paint, or sculpt that?” Even more frequently I think, “Who would buy that and why?” Art galleries make me incredulous. Still, I browse and eventually leave feeling stupid; stupid because I don’t get why such works should be appreciated instead of thrown away.
Art galleries, places I do not understand, are the main setting of Steve Martin’s newest novel An Object of Beauty. Let me start off by saying this book is a work of art. Really, the book itself; the canvas dust jacket is an immaculate white with raised lettering. The letters themselves are a glossy sheen with beautiful coloring, as if clipped from a painting. The boards maintain the same white cloth cover which is in contrast to the beautiful abstract colors of the front and end papers. I might not be able to appreciate a painting on a wall, but this book is beautiful.
I can’t speak quite as highly for the plot. I read a review of this book by an art aficionado. He ripped this thing apart. I wouldn’t say it was that bad, but it is mostly a book for people who have an understanding of the subject.
This story is written by Daniel Franks, an aspiring art critic, and he is telling of his friend Lacey Yeager, an aspiring art dealer. These two are friends from youth and revolve in and out of each other’s lives throughout adulthood. Daniel struggles at making a living. Lacey finaggles her way through deals, gaining a better foot hold on life with each handshake. There is the suspense of illegal dealings, the draw of New York city high life, the intrigue of international travel, and the excitement of hobnobbing with the rich and famous. The scope of this book is impressive. It begins around 1997 as the art world is booming, and chronicles the rise in art value, the fall with 9/11, then the deeper fall with the housing bust of ’08-09. It seems that Martin did his research to create a believable reality of the effects of these events on the art world and it was interesting to read through.
The events of Lacey’s rise and fall are captivating enough, but much of the book seems like name dropping. And I didn’t know any of the names. Many paintings are referenced, some I felt I should know, some I felt I should look up; but inevitably I didn’t care enough to follow through with the research. The book does present color reproductions of some of the paintings mentioned, but only some.
But where this story really falls short is the language and sex. The big Ef and others are prevalent and usually serve no purpose. Well, it shows that Lacey lives a fast and loose life, but readers are perceptive enough to pick up on things like that without being explicit. Without this content I would be happy to give this book a pleasant review because it was pleasant not great- but enjoyable enough. But I simply can’t recommend it as is.
I was hoping for something more from Steve Martin. I love so many of his films and thoroughly enjoyed his novella The Pleasure of My Company. (I recommend that book but it has been years since I read it and so can’t speak to the cleanliness of the content.)
But where art confuses and confounds me, books engage and enrapture me. And so I give a strong recommendation for The Man Who Loved Books Too Much. In this non-fiction title, Allison Hoover Bartlett details the exploits of John Gilkey as he steals hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of rare books.
Bartlett does a superb job of bringing Gilkey and his deeds to life. Through her interviews with experts, book shop owners, and interactions with Gilkey himself, she expertly weaves the cat-and-mouse game of thief and detective.
This book is more than just a manhunt, though. It is also an homage to book collectors and the excitement of building a collection. Bartlett writes about the thrill of discovery. She herself is a lover of books in that they serve a purpose and entertain, but was never one for collecting. But as she digs into this world she discovers a book collector’s joy and shares it in clear writing.
This book is not for everyone. The detective aspect of the book really isn’t enough for an entire book. And the rest that fills the pages is specifically for those that already enjoy the acquisition of bound beauties. This is a niche book and will most likely not appeal to many. But I loved it and give it my full recommendation.