Add a Susan Vreeland book to your reading list this year

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 11, 2015

By Pam Everhardt Bloom

Rowan Public Library

January is often a month of list making. Add “Lisette’s List,” the latest novel by Susan Vreeland somewhere near the top if you’re looking for a good read with an interesting art twist. The plot seems simple, yet provides plenty of interest and intrigue. A young Parisian wife ends up in Provence to her citified dismay, with the task of taking care of her husband’s aging grandfather.

The art connection arrives with the surprising stories of the grandfather’s relationship with artists such as Cezanne, Pissarro, Picasso and others. Add missing paintings, the Vichy regime and the landscape of Provence and you should definitely be entertained. An unexpected surprise was finding that I continued to think about art and our relationship with paintings long after the story ended. This also made me remember how much I like Vreeland’s other books.

You may recognize the author’s name from previous novels. A 1999 bestseller, “Girl in Hyacinth Blue,” pivots around a possible Vermeer painting. It’s almost as if the art becomes one of the main characters in a story that explores the power of this painting on the lives of eight individuals from present day to 17th century. Although the painting in this particular novel is fictitious, I found the weaving of historical connections with the power of art in our lives absorbing.

“Luncheon of the Boating Party” is one of my favorites. Narrated by Renoir, Vreeland’s story of how Renoir composed this masterpiece painting was captivating. The realistic descriptions of paint application, composition problems and details about the part his models and friends played in the making of this famous painting made me wonder how much was historically accurate and why Vreeland started writing about art. Her author’s note provided some detail; however, I wanted additional information to better separate fact from fiction.

My turnkey approach to finding those facts is one free and easily accessible to patrons of Rowan Public Library. If you have not accessed NC LIVE with your library card and PIN, make this unique resource another important addition to your January “to do” list for the year. I found immediate access to more than 3,000 possible articles about Vreeland and her books and articles such as, “Huckleberry Moments; an Interview with Susan Vreeland” by Mary Menzel for Book Talk, Nov.1, 2007, gave insight into her writing process as well as confirming the validity of her research. Another interesting tidbit, Vreeland only started enjoying art books when she was too weak to read while recovering from a bone-marrow transplant. She spent months immersed with art and this experience eventually led to a writing career in historical fiction based on artists and their creations.

I thoroughly enjoyed Vreeland’s “Life Studies,” a collection of stories about art, real artists with everyday problems and ordinary people who love and experience art. I really did like each and every story and although not every story was about a known artist, it was fun to attempt to place each story with its historical art connection.

Three other Vreeland books revolve around famous artists more obscure than Vermeer and the Impressionists. “The Passion of Artemisia,” is a novel about one of the great artists of the Italian baroque, perhaps surprisingly, a woman. Vreeland uses documented trial records and associations with the likes of Galileo and Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger to weave a compelling story about the artist Artemisia Gentileschi. Another strong female character is based on Emily Carr, an early 20th century Canadian painter and naturalist who depicted British Columbia native culture and art in her own unique style. After reading “The Forest Lover,” don’t miss visiting Vreeland’s webpage,, to view the paintings that inspired passages in the book. Last but certainly not least, learn more about Clara Driscoll, little known designer of Tiffany lamps in “Clara and Mr. Tiffany.” This book explores a turbulent time for women in the work force and the unseen designers behind famous names.

Find all these books and resources at your local Rowan Public Library. Add a Vreeland book to your list for 2015 and prepare for an interesting and thought-provoking read.

Sharpie tie-dye for teens: All programs 5:30-7 p.m. Free and open to middle and high school teens. Light refreshments served. For more information call 704-216-8234. Headquarters,  Jan. 20;  East,  Jan. 27.

Computer classes: Computer Basics: If you’re new to computers – or if you’ve just never felt comfortable – Computer Basics is for you.  We’ll go over the very basics, from discussing computer components to how programs are opened and closed. Classes are free. Sessions are about 90 minutes long. Class size is limited and on a first come, first served basis. Dates and times at all locations are subject to change without notice. Call 704-216-8242 for more information. Headquarters, Jan. 29, 9:30 a.m.

Lego day: For years, Legos have been one of the top children’s toys for developing creativity, imagination, systematic reasoning and problem solving skills. The library’s Lego collection will be available for children’s free play at 10 a.m. on Saturdays in January. Headquarters, Jan. 17 and 31; South, Jan. 24. 

Lego movie matinee: Come join us for the free family friendly PG rated movie. Free popcorn and lemonade. Children must be accompanied by a parent or caregiver. The movie is 1 hour and 40 minutes long. East, Jan. 24, 10:30 a.m.; South, Jan. 24, 12:30 p.m.

Anime/Manga interest group meeting: Headquarters, Jan.13, 4:30 p.m. Free and open to middle- and high-school teens interested in Anime, Manga and comic books. In the Hurley Room. Call 704-216-8229 for more information.

“Got Plans?” workshop: South Branch, Jan.  26, 5:45 p.m. Free and open to the publicLearn about essential documents such as power of attorney, living wills and other important papers families should have access to at time of need.  Notebooks and forms will be provided to help you get started. Led by Don Timmons. This program is open to all ages; participants under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Registration for each workshop is recommended. To register or learn more about this program, call 704-216-7734.

Richard Smith concert: Headquarters, (Stanback Auditorium) — Jan. 27, 7 p.m. Join us for a special musical concert featuring guitarist Richard Smith, who has toured around the world surprising audiences with his incredible range of musical styles from country, bluegrass, mainstream jazz, modern pop and rock, to classical guitar.  Admission is free, and all are welcome. Program starts at 7 p.m.; doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Book Bites Club: South (only),  Jan. 27, 6:30 p.m.,  “The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party” by Alexander McCall Smith. Book discussion groups for both adults and children at South Rowan Regional Library meet the last Tuesday of each month. The group is openand anyone is free to join at any time. There is a discussion of the book, as well as light refreshments at each meeting. For more information, please call 704-216-7841.

Special RPL Book Sale: South Rowan Regional Library.  Come find a bargain in a special RPL book sale featuring mostly children’s and adult nonfiction books. Prices range from 50 cents to $2, and books will be priced to move toward the end of the sale. Friday, Jan. 30, Saturday, Jan. 31 and Monday, Feb.  2,  9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Library closings: Jan. 19, all RPL locations closed for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Literacy: Call the Rowan County Literacy Council at 704-216-8266 for more information on teaching or receiving literacy tutoring for English speakers or for those for whom English is a second  language.

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