Chosen by Tom Rachman
In Tom Rachman’s latest novel, The Italian Teacher, the son of a larger-than-life American painter seeks a way to make his own mark in the world. Below, the author of The Imperfectionists recommends six other books about the private lives of artists.
The Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari (Oxford, $13). This 16th-century classic is stuffed with amusing (and dubious) gossip about the Renaissance greats. Michelangelo’s nose is busted by a rival; Piero di Cosimo lives off nothing but boiled eggs; Raphael dies after excessively raucous sex. Art history has never been the same.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (Scribner, $16). This memoir of the young writer’s life in 1920s Paris remains so charming. Yet Hemingway’s Feast has plenty to answer for. How many people (myself included) have been dangerously seduced by romantic visions of the creative class?
Life With Picasso by Françoise Gilot (Virago, $12). An antidote to dreamy ideas about artists. Gilot was a young painter in 1943 when she met that legendary face-rearranger, Pablo, he a mere 40 years her senior, and married. The latter condition never stopped him. Two kids later, Gilot had had her fill of Picasso, who in these pages proves petulant, cruel, and (spoiler alert) unfaithful. He’s a man easier to admire from the safe distance of a museum.
Outline by Rachel Cusk (Picador, $16). The first three books I listed were fact-based; the final three, fictions that tell truths. Here, a novelist takes a summer gig teaching creative writing in Greece, encountering fellow authors-for-hire, students, strangers. Cusk conveys the icy perceptiveness that, some say, a serious writer must possess.
Slaves of New York by Tama Janowitz (Roadswell, $6 as an e-book). This skewer through the 1980s art scene is rich with witty tales about the battles for success and for rent money. If you read of Hemingway’s Paris with longing, Janowitz’s grotesquerie will stir the urge to bolt in the opposite direction—but to run smiling.
Any Human Heart by William Boyd (Vintage, $17). I love novels that recount a life from childhood to old age. Here, the bio is of fictional writer Logan Mountstuart, whose life intersects with momentous 20th-century events, literary heroes (Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf), and great visual artists too (Pollock and the inescapable Picasso). Mountstuart is also a flawed man; a late-life reckoning awaits.