Bookstoker’s best books about art and artists

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing

The Lonely City

When loneliness turns into art

Just Kids

The making of two artists

The Agony and the Ecstasy

Michelangelo up close and personal, the perfect travel companion for a trip to Italy

The Unfinished Palazzo – Life, Love and Art in Venice

Gloriously gossipy biography of one grand palazzo and three extraordinary women

The Hare With the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

The Hare With the Amber Eyes

An unforgettable family memoir

So Much Longing in So Little Space: The Art of Edvard Munch by Karl Ove Knausgaard

So Much Longing In So Little Space: The Art of Edvard Munch

A brilliant introduction to the non-canonical Munch

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Indelicacy by Amina Cain

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Not lacking in delicacy

Although a short read, Indelicacy by Amina Cain is a delightful, thought provoking novella about socioeconomic amelioration, the complexities of marriage, and female agency. Following main character Vitória who, longing for the economic and temporal freedom to write, climbs (and falls down) the hierarchical ladder from gallery cleaner to kept wife to independent singleton. Indelicacy celebrates the arts and female friendship above the apparent ‘need’ for a woman to produce, commit to and maintain a marriage.

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Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford

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Light Perpetual

Stories of lives not lived

It’s London 1944 and a German bomb is about to hit a Woolworths shop where five young children are shopping with their mums. The first chapter of Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford describes, in harrowing detail, the moment of impact. What would have happened to those five kids if they hadn’t turned to ‘dust’? This is what Spufford want us to imagine in Light Perpetual, a gripping tribute to lives not lived.

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And All the Trumpets by Donald Smith

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And All the Trumpets

A Call to Resilience

I was born in Britain in the mid-nineties; as such, I am fortunate enough to know very little of war and her brutish seams. Instead, I see explosions on television and sleep safely in my bed with only the rumbling Northern Line to stir me. And All the Trumpets by Donald Smith is enlightening, troubling and overwhelmingly humbling. The autobiography recounts Smith’s years as a Japanese prisoner of war. It is a story of almost incomprehensible suffering; daily torture, rampant disease and total psychological discombobulation come to define Smith’s lived experience in a story too far-fetched for fiction.

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The Offing by Benjamin Myers

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The Offing

A treasure for quiet times

I first noticed The Offing by Benjamin Myers while on a day trip to Bath. It was eight days later when a copy fell through the letterbox of my north London flat; only, I hadn’t ordered it. It took a little investigation to identify the sender as my companion to the heritage city. Books have meaning beyond their contents; stories remind us of times in our lives and the people who have enlivened them. Myers’ The Offing tells the heart-warming story of sixteen-year- old Robert Appleyard and his unlikely friendship with a mysterious elderly lady. In this sense, it is a tale of companionship; and for me, the wonderful serendipity of correlation between the novel’s sentiment and the means by which it arrived on my shelf.

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Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

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Our Man in Havana

Perfect mindless entertainment

Some Caribbean sun, a few daiquiris, a bit of spying and some good laughs make Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene the perfect Covid-January read. With a far-fetched plot – British Havana based vacuum clean salesman, Jim Wormold, is recruited as a spy for MI6 – it delivers some much-needed distraction. Wormold has been brutally dumped by his Cuban wife and is left to raise their 16-year-old daughter Milly by himself. Keeping glamorous Milly content is expensive and when Mr Hawthorne from the Foreign Office arrives from England, he makes Wormold an offer he can’t afford to refuse.

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Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

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Shuggie Bain

This year's first must read

2020 Booker Prize winner Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart is the most empathic and convincing portrayal of an alcoholic I’ve read. It’s the 1980s and Agnes Bain and her three children live in utter misery in the most deprived area of Glasgow. Shug, Agnes philandering husband, has moved on. Soon the older children start looking for the exit too until it’s only Shuggie and Agnes left. It’s the indestructible love between the two of them that carries this touching novel. This year’s first must read.

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