Museum Book Club: Recommended Reading from Our Staff

Looking to curl up with a good book? Check out these recommendations from our staff.

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Maggie North, Curator of Art

In its most exciting moments, art history is like detective work. Clues may be hidden in brushstrokes or footnotes, and a trail of evidence can lead one through volumes of books, across continents, into seldom seen archives, and in the best cases, to a priceless discovery. Jonathan Harr’s The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece is the magnetic and true tale of one such art historical journey. The narrative follows two somewhat unlikely heroes, a young student and a world-weary conservator, who pursue similar leads before their paths converge in a search for Caravaggio’s lost work, The Taking of Christ. Due to Caravaggio’s artistic success, numerous copyists and followers reproduced or emulated his dramatically lit canvases, making the originals more difficult for today’s scholars to identify. In addition to an interesting and informed discussion of Caravaggio’s life and work, Jonathan Harr’s text includes references to these followers or “Caravaggisti.” A fantastic painting by one of Caravaggio’s most notable followers, Bartolomeo Manfredi, is represented in the collection of the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts. After reluctantly putting down The Lost Painting some evenings before bed, I found my mind wandering to the deep reds, dark shadows, and emotive gestures represented in Manfredi’s Christ Crowned with Thorns. Evocative of the manner of Caravaggio, the Manfredi painting is a great companion to this worthwhile read, and vice versa.

Book cover for The Lost Painting
©Penguin Random House

Shocking Paris: Soutine, Chagall and the Outsiders of Montparnasse is an absorbing account of the explosion of artistic activity and intriguing personalities that changed the cultural fabric of Paris between 1913 and the start of the Second World War. In the early 20th century, the city of Paris became a magnet for immigrant artists from across the continent including the Lithuanian artist Chaim Soutine, the Russian artist Marc Chagall, and the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani. In the bohemian district of Montparnasse, these newcomers coalesced, creating works of art inspired by their homelands as well as by emerging styles such as Cubism and Fauvism. Many were Jewish émigrés who challenged the disturbing swell of anti-Semitism through their remarkable ingenuity and perseverance. Author Stanley Meisler, a diplomat and journalist, presents a well-researched and compelling description of this pivotal period in art history. As readers learn in the book’s introduction, Meisler’s connection to the story is personal: he is a distant relative of the tortured, yet bright expressionist painter Chaim Soutine around whom the narrative is configured. I came across this book while researching prints in the collection of the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts for the exhibition Marc Chagall and Friends: The Salon des Indépendants, which was on view from July 2017 through January 2018. The book brought to life many of the artists about whom I was reading and informed the exhibition’s content. Shocking Paris will be a great companion to all those interested in modern history, art history, and stories creativity in times of adversity.

Shokcing Paris Book Cover
©St. Martin's Press, MacMillan Publishers
Laura Sutter, Program Coordinator, The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum
Wacky Wednesday was originally published in 1974 under Ted Geisel’s other pen name, Theo LeSieg, with illustration by George Booth. As the Program Coordinator for The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, the works of Ted Geisel are always on my reading lists. This book came to the forefront of this list when my three-year-old niece decided it was the greatest piece of literature ever written. Reader, I must be honest with you. When I first saw this was her Dr. Seuss book of choice, I was skeptical. I had always been partial to those books with Dr. Seuss’s original illustration. However, the more I read this book, the more I was in agreement with my niece that this book is a masterpiece! Wacky Wednesday has everything: rhyming, counting, a palm tree in a toilet, a tiger in a stroller, and a shoe on every page! In a time when the world is wacky, Wacky Wednesday teaches us to take the unusual in stride and to not stress over the things we cannot change.
You can use this book as inspiration to create your very own Wacky Wednesday with your family! Some ideas to get started: wear your clothes inside out or backwards, add food coloring to a favorite dish for a wacky meal, or change the time on the clocks. How else can you make your home wacky?
Wacky Wednesday by Dr. Seuss writing as Theo LeSieg
©Random House
Kevin Kopchynski, Planetarium and STEM Educator, Science Museum

When I wanted to expand my knowledge in geology, I found a great resource in Dinosaurs, Dunes, and Drifting Continents by Richard Little. Professor Little taught at Greenfield Community College for many years and now offers geologic tours around the world. The book gives an overview of the geological past of our Connecticut River Valley, starting well before the time of the dinosaurs and continuing up to the present day. Our valley and the rocks we see are the products of several tectonic collisions and a great drop fault. And no, dinosaurs did not leave footprints on the shore of Lake Hitchcock. The lake is a much more recent feature. As you sort out the timeline along with Professor Little, you will also learn about some other local geological features such as the Holyoke Range. It is a small book but packs in a lot of learning between the covers and it has plenty of illustrations. Since writing the book, Professor Little collaborated with us here at the science museum as we developed our Mineral Hall and there is a video featuring him as well as a specimen he donated on display. The book is a fitting way to further your exposure to geology after visiting our exhibits.

Dinosaurs, Dunes, and Drifting Continents by Richard Little
© Earth View
Linda Larrivee, History and Dr. Seuss Museum Docent
As a History and Dr. Seuss Museum docent, I was interested in reading and learning more about the life of Springfield’s native son in Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination, the first comprehensive biography written about the author and illustrator in more than two decades. This new, hefty, and wonderfully readable biography goes into great detail about Geisel’s early childhood and adolescence growing up in Springfield, MA, shedding light on little known facts about his family, especially his beloved sister Marnie. As a docent, I found the book helped me place Geisel in historical context and gave me interesting references about Springfield to share with our visitors. Jones, the author of three other biographies of iconic Americans, details Geisel’s success as a cartoonist, his military career, and his association with publishing firms and movie moguls! All in all, I recommend this read for anyone who would like to learn more about the man who revolutionized learning to read by making it fun!
Becoming Dr. Seuss by Brian Jay Jones
©Penguin Random House
James Cannon, Exhibit Preparator, Science Museum
Dinosaurs have always captured the imagination. You only have to think of the Jurassic Park films or our own Dinosaur Hall to see how popular dinosaurs are and always have been. But as fun as the Jurassic Park movies are, they pretty much get dinosaurs all wrong. Luckily, paleontologists like Steve Brusatte are around to explain just how awesome and terrifying and cool dinosaurs really were—and which dinosaurs had feathers.
Published two years ago and available as a hardcover or e-book, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is an up-to-date chronological view of not only the evolution of the dinosaurs throughout the Mesozoic Era where they dominated the land, but also an overview of the men and women who have studied these fascinating beasts around the world. Brusatte visits Argentina, China, Scotland, India, the Sahara, and anywhere else dinosaur fossils have been found to create as full and complete a picture as he can of these fascinating creatures that we know only from fragmentary fossils. There is an excellent overview of the most famous dinosaur of all, and star attraction of the Science Museum’s Dinosaur Hall, Tyrannosaurus rex, that was so eye-opening and legitimately terrifying that, when I read it, I immediately had to share what I learned with my family. If you love dinosaurs or have someone in your life who loves dinosaurs, this is an excellent, well-researched, and delightfully written overview. Numerous illustrations and photographs of dinosaurs and paleontologists help bring the words to life, but the tone is down-to-earth and conversational, without too much scientific jargon beyond the wonderful names of the dinosaurs themselves.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World
©Harper Collins Publishers
Margaret Humberston, Curator of Library & Archives
Wartime Sisters is the compelling story of two estranged sisters who reconnect at the Springfield Armory during WWII. I was interested to read it because of its location, but also because I knew the author had visited the Wood Museum Archives to do some research. I wondered what she’d do with it. Turns out she knew how to interject just enough information into her narrative to give a realistic sense of what the times were like. I enjoyed reading about the training process for female “Soldiers of Production” and about the day care facilities for working mothers provided at the High School of Commerce, across the street from the Armory. I also liked hearing about the different entertainment provided at the Armory and in the city, so I had a sense that daily life still offered something to look forward to, despite its production quotas. In preparation for an exhibit honoring a century of Springfield women I was looking through our collection of Armory items like recruitment pamphlets and photos of women workers from WWII and our manuscript materials of USO dances and events, and it made me realize how history can become so alive in the hands of a talented writer who takes a little time to get the details right.
Watertime Sisters: A Novel book cover