I am a member of the Art Institute of Chicago.  This week I received the latest issue of the member magazine, and I was intrigued to learn that the Art Institute is establishing its own book club, Reading Between the Lions.  (For those of you who haven’t visited this wonderful museum, you should know that the entrance is flanked by two magnificent stone lions.)  The book club’s selections parallel the current exhibitions, Edward Hopper and Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light.  Both books are available for purchase in the Museum Shop.  The Homer-related book is The Country of the Painted Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett, a novel about life in rural Maine.  Written during Homer’s lifetime, this book is considered to be Jewett’s masterpiece, and as the Art Institute points out, “the themes of hardship and isolation in Jewett’s fishing villages echo the tone found in many of Homer’s watercolors.”  The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler, is the accompaniment for the Hopper exhibit.  The Art Institute chose this hardboiled piece of noir fiction, which was written just three years before Hopper painted his iconic work, Nighthawks, because “the laconic and stoic protagonist is perfectly suited to the life Hopper portrayed in his art.”  

Even if you don’t live close enough to Chicago to visit the Art Institute and see these exhibitions, you could adapt this idea of blending art into a book discussion.  Perhaps you’ve tried this before, bringing art books to the discussion meeting to enhance novels that are specifically related to art, such as The Girl With a Pearl Earring and Lust for Life,  but you could take a similar approach with stories that are not about art or artists (as the Art Institute suggests) to provide a deeper sense of the setting or the mood of your discussion choice.  Coincidentally, I am going to be leading a discussion of Stuart Dybek’s terrific collection of short stories, The Coast of Chicago, next month, and in reviewing the book yesterday as part of my preparation, I suddenly realized that one of the stories, Nighthawks, specifically references Hopper’s great painting.  You can be sure I will be bringing a print of the painting to the discussion!



About the Author:

Ted Balcom lives in Arlington Heights, IL and conducts workshops on leading book discussions, about which he has also published a book: Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader’s Guide (American Library Association, 1992).


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  1.' jv says:

    what is the date time and room for the Coast of Chicago book discussion?

  2. Ted says:

    “The Coast of Chicago” discussion I mentioned in the above post will be held on Wednesday, March 19 at 7:30 p.m. in the Board Room of the Arlington Heights (IL) Memorial Library.

  3.' John Viramontes says:

    I’ll be at the discussion Wed. 3/19 7:30 pm.

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