Book bits

Nine artists, eight book fairs, three silver-screen icons, and readers' picks.

The Private Lives of the Impressionists, By Sue Roe

Claude Monet, age 20, traverses the Right Bank, heading for a ramshackle building above a dentist's office. It is here, in the studio of Père Suisse, that art students from all across Paris come to sketch. Camille Pissarro paints here, as does his protégé, the dark and depressive Paul Cézanne. We meet and follow them as well, experiencing their joys, their sorrows, their everyday challenges – and their art.

This is the mise en scene with which author Sue Roe presents nine beloved artists in The Private Lives of the Impressionists.

It's Paris in the 1860s. Napoleon III is emperor. Change is in the air. In 1863, after continual rejection from the Parisian art establishment, the work of the Impressionists finally gets a showing at the "Salon des Refuses" (an aptly named exhibit) and – amid scandal and derision – a new school of art is born.

But other forces are at work in the City of Lights: Bismarck has designs on Alsace- Lorraine and the Franco-Prussian War descends. Suddenly the Impressionists are either on the front lines fighting or in exile.

After the war, the surviving Impressionists take refuge in the banlieues, those quaint villages along the Seine on the outskirts of Paris. There they socialize with one another, but more important, they paint. Times are rough, yet the Impressionists begin to find buyers for their works. This is now the 1870s and new art dealers have come to Paris looking for fresh ideas.

By the mid-1880s they have all drifted apart. Manet (the true leader of the group) is dead, and others like Monet, Pissarro, Cézanne and even Degas are not able to escape penury. As for the others (Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, and Alfred Sisley), family pressures or disillusionment have consumed most of their energies. Only Renoir, with his sweet wife, Aline, and their son Pierre, achieves fulfillment in his life.

Incredibly, there is a hero to this story. Paul Durand-Ruel, an art collector from New York, organizes an exhibit in New York in 1886 that brings global attention to the Impressionists.

"The Private Lives of the Impressionists" belongs not on the cocktail table (there are no full-page illustrations in color), but on the bookshelf next to Vasari's "The Lives of the Artists" and Van Gogh's "Dear Theo." Some might accuse Roe of blurring genres: biography, art history, criticism, and literature run together here. It is nonetheless a wonderful read, emotionally stirring and beautifully written.
– Richard Horan

2007 book fairs

They buy, they sell, they talk, sometimes they even read. The new year has barely begun but already the book world is preparing for the wave of 2007 book fairs. Some of this year's events include:

The Cairo International Book Fair Jan. 23-Feb. 4

The Jerusalem International Book Fair Feb 18-23

Paris Salon du Livre March 23-27

Bangkok International Book Fair March 28-April 10

London Book Fair April 16-18

Bologna Children's Book Fair April 24-27

Book Expo America (New York) May 31-June 3

Frankfurt Buchmesse Oct. 10-14

3 Books about Hollywood legends

He put his stamp on the national culture to such a degree that many around the world believe him to be the face of America. In Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, Neal Gabler offers the most complete picture of this American icon yet to emerge. Gabler was the first writer to enjoy full access to the Disney archives, and as a result his carefully researched book is chock-full of interesting detail, particularly when it comes to the burst of creativity that marked the early years of the Disney studio.

William Mann, an experienced Hollywood biographer and gifted writer, serves up a detailed and nuanced portrait of another American icon in Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn, a carefully re-searched biography that takes a fresh look at the acting great, debunking some of the myths that have grown up about her.

Simon Callow follows up "The Road to Xanadu," his biography of the young Orson Welles, with Hello Americans, a second volume tracing the years from the debut of "Citizen Kane" through "Macbeth" and Welles's departure for Europe in 1947. Callow skillfully examines both Welles's enormous talent and his unusual persona, creating an engrossing and enlightening read.

Readers' picks

I ended the year 2006 with the last few pages of Kristin Lavransdatter, a 1,000-page trilogy. Sigrid Undset wrote the three books in the late 1920s and won a Nobel Prize for literature. It is Norway in the 1300s: Kristin is a headstrong young girl who falls in love with someone (not her betrothed) and gets her way in marrying him. Although she has the life she chose with husband, Erlend, Kristin is not as content as she wants to be. They quarrel, they make up. They celebrate, they mourn. They raise six sons to adulthood against a backdrop of religious observances, political intrigue, and finally the horrors of the plague.
– Joland Mohr, Cottonwood, Minn.

When Invisible Children Sing is a transfixing autobiography and narrative by Harvard-trained pediatrician Chi Huang, with Irwin Tang. Born to immigrant parents from Taiwan, Dr. Huang volunteered, while in his fourth year at Harvard Medical School, for a program that provided medical care for street children in La Paz, Bolivia. The style of Huang and Mr. Tang is humble, forthright, bright, honest, even cheery and humorous at times, and focused on the life stories and experiences of several representative street children "Dr. Chi" grew to know and love.
– J. Smith, Denver

I am currently reading Piano: The Making Of A Steinway Concert Grand by James Barron. This book tracks all the steps involved in the production of a Steinway grand piano. Today, so many of our products are made with the aid of a computer. But the Steinway is truly man-made. This is a fascinating book for those who love a blend of technology, science, people, skill, and the arts.
– Frank Cangemi, Quincy, Mass.

What are you reading? Write and tell us at Marjorie Kehe.

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