MFAH Book Tours: Past Selections

"Art + Literature Meet" at MFAH Book Tours. Selections are chosen to complement the museum's art collections and exhibitions. To learn about the books that have been featured in this program, scroll through the listings below. Click each title for a discussion guide in PDF format.

Fall 2012/Winter 2013

In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason
Chosen to complement the exhibition WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its AftermathIn Country is not a typical “war novel” with bullets, blood, tanks and terrorists. The story is set in the 1980s, as the war in Vietnam comes home to a young woman whose father was killed there before she was born. Readers see the after-effects of the conflict on the young woman; her mother’s brother, a psychologically wounded veteran; and her paternal grandmother—all leading to a pilgrimage to the newly opened Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Summer 2012

The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
This is the true story of once-legendary wealth reduced to a few possessions, mainly a prized collection of 264 netsuke—decorative Japanese toggles—acquired by De Waal's ancestor in 1870s Paris, and handed down through the generations, to Vienna during the early 20th century, post-World War II Japan, and current day London, England.

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (2 of 2)
An aging artist, Masuji Ono, is caught between two manifestations of Japan: the imperial movement that led his nation into World War II, and the devastation of postwar Nagasaki. Ono lives in a culture with strictly defined roles, and tries to reconcile "what is" with "what could be."
Note: This is the second of two discussion guides, focused on the exhibition Unrivalled Splendor: The Kimiko and John Powers Collection of Japanese Art (June 10 to September 23, 2012). The first discussion guide, for Spring 2012 (see below), recognized the opening of the MFAH Arts of Japan Gallery.

Spring 2012

Voices from the Other World: Ancient Egyptian Tales by Naguib Mahfouz
Naguib Mahfouz (1911–2006) is the only Egyptian writer awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature. These five short stories provide glimpses of his homeland's past. Weaving together tales of political power with magical realism and memorable characters, Mahfouz evokes the memory of an ancient world in tales that read like contemporary fiction.

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (1 of 2)
An aging artist, Masuji Ono, is caught between two manifestations of Japan: the imperial movement that led his nation into World War II, and the devastation of postwar Nagasaki. Ono lives in a culture with strictly defined roles, and tries to reconcile "what is" with "what could be."
Note: This is the first of two discussion guides, recognizing the opening of the MFAH Arts of Japan Gallery. The second discussion guide, for Summer 2012 (see above), focused on the exhibition Unrivalled Splendor: The Kimiko and John Powers Collection of Japanese Art (June 10 to September 23, 2012).

Fall 2011

Cleopatra, A Life by Stacy Schiff
Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer, paints a vivid picture of the luxurious lifestyle of the Queen of the Nile, her twin roles as political leader and goddess, and the nail-biting plots and schemes that defined her world.

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk
Nobel Prize–winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk offers a murder mystery set in sixteenth-century Istanbul. When a sultan commissions a group of talented artists to create a book celebrating his life and times, one of the artists disappears. Are there clues hidden in the images he created?

Summer 2011

Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
In 2005, art historians were astonished to learn from previously unknown correspondence that the exquisite stained glass lamps attributed to Louis Comfort Tiffany were most likely conceived and designed by Clara Driscoll, one of the "Tiffany girls" who labored anonymously in Tiffany workrooms in New York City. It was workers like Clara who created the lamps, vases, and windows—including the spectacular window permanently installed in the MFAH’s Audrey Jones Beck Building, A Wooded Landscape in Three Panels—that were Tiffany‘s signature styles.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Things Fall Apart tells two intertwining stories, both centering on Okonkwo, a self-made leader of an Igbo village in Nigeria. The first, a modern fable of the age-old conflict between the individual and society, traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace. The second, as modern as the first is ancient, follows the impact of European missionaries on the traditions of the Igbo culture—many of which are richly depicted in the MFAH galleries of Sub-Saharan African Art.

Spring 2011

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
From the time she moved to France in 1903 until her death in 1946, Gertrude Stein was a central figure of the Parisian art world. In her 1933 best-seller The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Stein details her relationships with many now legendary artists and writers, among them Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, both represented by works in the MFAH collection from this seminal period of their careers.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In 1922, F. Scott Fitzgerald announced his decision to write ¨something new, something extraordinary and beautiful, simple and intricately patterned.¨ The result was The Great Gatsby, published in 1925, the story of Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire, and his pursuit of the American Dream, a story that unfolds in the galleries of American Art at the MFAH from the Manifest Destiny of the Hudson River School Painters to the triumph of Abstract Expressionism in the mid-20th century.

Fall 2010

The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy
A concise yet complex book, The Death of Ivan Ilych (1886), confronts readers quite literally with matters of life and death. The novella focuses on Ivan Ilych who, at 45, falls ill and suffers a long, agonizing death. Until his illness, Ivan had never reflected on his life, and in his final days, he contemplates what it means to lead a meaningful life while slowly coming to acknowledge his own as artificial and empty. Related guided tours will highlight works across the museum’s collection by artists who explore death and life through their art.

Pictures at an Exhibition by Sara Houghteling
Published in 2009, Pictures at an Exhibition is a historical novel, a family saga, a love story, and a meditation on the value of material beauty against the backdrop of war. Set in a Paris darkened by World War II, the novel tells the story of a son’s quest to recover his family’s lost paintings, looted by the Nazis during the occupation. Tours relate the book to works in the museum’s European art galleries, particularly the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings in the John A. and Audrey Jones Beck Collection.

Summer 2010

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Set within New York´s Gilded Age, The Age of Innocence (1920) poses the question: how can a novel with "innocence" in its title be filled with such feverish longing and desire? Related tours highlight works in the MFAH’s American and European art galleries.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
One of the most influential American novels written, The Awakening (1899), centers on main character Edna Pontellier and her struggle to reconcile her unorthodox views on femininity and motherhood with the prevailing social attitudes of turn-of-the-century America. Related tours highlight works in the MFAH’s American and European art galleries.

Spring 2010

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman
Prepare to be transported to the vibrant art scene of late nineteenth-century Paris in this richly textured portrait of the relationship between Mary Cassatt and her sister Lydia. It is a moving and revealing portrait of the free-spirited artist and the sister and model who lived—and died—with such courage, dignity, and grace. Related tours highlight Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings in the John A. and Audrey Jones Beck Collection at the MFAH.

My Ántonia by Willa Cather
Originally published in 1918, My Ántonia is the intimate portrait of an American heroine, an elegy for a vanished frontier, and the story of a young man´s journey out of the innocence of childhood into adulthood. A book that uniquely captures the settling of the American frontier, My Ántonia complements works of art in the museum´s American art galleries.

Fall 2009

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
The Palace of Illusions (2008) transports us to a time that is part history, part myth, and fully magical. Written by Houston author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and narrated by Panchaali, the wife of the legendary Pandavas brothers in the Indian epic The Mahabharat, the novel offers a new interpretation of this ancient tale. Related tours highlight works of art in the Arts of India gallery.

The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe
Monet, Manet, Pissarro, Cezanne, Renoir, Degas, Morisot, Sisley, Cassatt. Their works are familiar to even the most casual art lovers—but how well does the world know the Impressionists as people? Sue Roe´s lively and thoroughly researched biography follows a fascinating group of artists into their Paris studios, through the streets of Montmartre, and into the boisterous riverside bars of a city undergoing monumental change. Related tours highlight Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings in the John A. and Audrey Jones Beck Collection at the MFAH.