Friday, September 20, 2013

Those orange books and other non-fiction favorites

As a child, I was drawn to novels, especially those in my parent’s library, a small room lined with bookcases, tucked next to our living-room. My brother and I called it “the dreaded piano room,” where we were sent daily to practice. I spent more time curled on the couch reading than banging notes on the piano. Yes, of-course, now I’m sorry. I have become a famous concert pianist, despite my lack of talent. If only… Instead I devoured scintillating novels. such as Forever Amber and Gone With the Wind. When I did read non-fiction (those not assigned at school), it was always a biography of a famous American woman - Dolly Madison, Amelia Earhart, or Clara Barton. I called these books, long disappeared from library shelves, “those orange books.” They were actually from a series called Childhood of Famous Americans published by Bobbs-Merrill Co. Now I would label them creative non-fiction, as they contained fictionalized scenes and dialogue. Some were republished by Patria Press in the late 1990’s with a new format and cover design. They are still available.

 Why did I love these books? I think because they were stories about women who persevered, despite living in a male-dominated culture, women who took risks and dared to follow their dreams. Did I notice then that many of these "famous women" were wives of American presidents? The message was subliminal but I got it.

The book that seems life-changing to me now, as I look back, is The Diary of Anne Frank, which was translated into English in the 1950’s. I attended a private girls’ school in St. Louis. There were very few Jewish girls in my class. Despite the fact that the Holocaust had occurred in our very recent past, there were no references to it in our classes. I received The Diary of Anne Frank as a gift from my uncle. Not only did the story startle and move me, it also gave me a sense of my Jewish heritage. By the time I graduated this memoir had captured the attention of the whole world and my own small world, as well. But when I first read it, I felt as if I had somehow discovered it.

My writing partner Sandra Jordan wanted weigh in with her favorite, as well.

“My parents both loved to read and our book shelves were a hodge podge of novels, poetry, and old, battered volumes that no one remembered buying.  Yard sales perhaps.  Of course I read everything.

An American Doctor's Odyssey: Adventures in Forty Five Countries by Victor Heiser, MD.  It begins with a thrilling first person account of 16 year old Victor Heiser surviving the Johnstown, Flood.  After that it's on to doctoring as an international public health official.  Plague, small pox, leprosy, typhoid, cholera and  hookworm.  I was fascinated by major epidemics.”

For more books that deal with “major epidemics,” read Jim Murphey’s I.N.K. blog!  Sandra and Jim ought to get together!!

The non-fiction book about art that inspired me to write my own is H.W. Janson’s classic introduction to art in the Western World, History of Art for Young People (revised in 1997 by his son the art historian Anthony F. Janson).  This is the cover of the copy I have from some years ago.

I learned a great deal from this book, but I also wanted more, more info, more detail, more story. I realized that a book that focused just on looking at contemporary American art would be a complement to Janson’s encyclopedic volume and fill a gap in the bookshelf. Janson’s History of Art is just the beginning.
Since The Painter’s Eye: Learning to Look at Contemporary American Painting and its’ companion book The Sculptor’s Eye: Learning to Look at Contemporary American Sculpture (with Sandra Jordan) was published, we've moved on to write many books about individual artists, including an architect, a choreographer/dancer, and a ceramicist in our new book The Mad Potter. 

In addition many wonderful books for young readers about the arts have been published in the last fifteen years. I am compiling a list of recommended books for young readers on all the arts in America. Some of my favorites have been written by our I.N.K. bloggers I’ll share what I’ve gathered in my May I.N.K. post.


Anonymous said...

Hi.your review makes me to buy those books..i love reading books..Thanks for sharing about the information..


Anna M. Lewis said...

Ahhh, yes, Janson's History of Art. This tome was the book that our Art History teacher at University of Cincinnati made us read. The class was taught in a dark auditorium with comfy seats at 9am MWFs. The teacher's quiet monotone description of each slide was great sleeping background noise.

Fast forward a few years. I sign up to run the Art Volunteer in the Classroom program at our elementary school. I have fond memories of the program in elementary school and you have to be involved in something in your child's school.

What a great education I got! Each month I had to research an artist, create a project and present it in a fun way to elementary students.
I got it. Matisse... wow, now I understand. Picasso, Warhol, Kahlo. Oh, my!

Great post!

Cheryl Harness said...

When I took Edwin Ellis's 'Art Apprish' class at the U. of Central Mo way back when Richard Nixon was in office, Janson's History of Art was our textbook. My battered copy is on my bookshelf still. It was Mr. Ellis, God rest him, who taught me how to watercolor. Thanks for kindling the memory, dear Jan, and that of seeing the building where Anne Frank and her family hid themselves away. God rest them, too. As for all those bios, it was heartening to read about Louisa Alcott & Clara Barton, knowing they didn't have to have celebrated hubbies in order to be famous.