Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing B.A. Shapiro, author of The Art Forger, at Highlands Ranch, CO library in the middle of a snowstorm. My original intent in going was to get a signed copy for Tamara from Traveling With T, who enjoyed the book as part of a SheReads book club pick. But after hearing the author talk, I ended up buying a second copy for myself!
I have yet to read The Art Forger, but I am looking forward to it. It’s based on the infamous art heist at the Isabella Gardner museum in Massachusetts. As a MA native, I knew a bit about the heist and the museum itself, but I had no idea the story behind Isabella Gardner herself, or that while she willed the museum to the public, no changes may be made to it. This means that there are actually blank spots on the walls where the 13 stolen paintings used to hang! The heist, which took place in 1990, stands as the most expensive art heist in history, with the stolen goods totaling $500 million in paintings. The robbers, who dressed like police officers, literally waltzed in to the museum, tied up two guards (one of whom was very stoned), and smashed frames to get the artwork out.
The book itself, however, focuses less on the heist and more on the characters. Written on three time tracks, the book follows Clare, a painter who has a scandalous past in the art world and has become a bit of a pariah. In order to salvage her reputation, she makes a deal that has to do with the forgery of a painting that she believes is from the Isabella Gardner museum heist. From there, she dives headfirst into the lives of Isabella Gardner herself while working her way out of the trenches. (Or, at least this is what I gathered from the speech because I have yet to actually read the book).
But enough about this book I want to read and back to the author!
Shapiro, who has a background in sociology and not writing, has a very curious mind. She began by telling the audience that, “after 25 years, I am an overnight success,” which was a way to poke fun at her previous books that never made it to print, never mind a bestseller list (she’s written ten total). Shapiro, who lives and teaches in Boston, has always been fascinated by Isabella Gardner the person, and wanted to write a book about her. Unfortunately, she had no idea how to turn her curiousity into a book, so she filed it in her “interesting things” pile. Fast forward a few years to when Shapiro enters a typo into Google that brings up art forgery and poof! An idea forms and The Art Forger is born.
As an academic who is passionate about art but can’t, “make stick figures look like stick figures,” Shapiro acknowledged that she enjoys writing fiction because when she gets tired of researching something, she can just make it up. But, because she is an academic at heart, she tries to be as historically accurate as she can be. That said, the portions of the book are art forgery are entirely true, while some of the personal relationships involving Isabella Gardner are fictional.
While the book is worth reading on its own merits, I must admit that I am going to read it because the author was such a delight. It was obvious that she enjoyed writing this book and her eyes literally lit up with joy when she talked about “being Belle” for the purposes of writing the story. And, always the teacher, she left the audience with a few tidbits of advice, which included:
- “To be a writer, you need a working spouse with benefits. Forget the rest!”
- “Write what you want to learn about” (as opposed to the old adage, “write what you know”)
And with that, I hope you check out this book!