Novel Ideas

For the last week, I’ve been holding off on starting a new book. This is not easy for me, as there is usually a stack of waiting-to-be-read novels calling to me from my nightstand. But when I heard that Nina Siegal is coming to PEM with her new novel, The Anatomy Lesson, I had a feeling I’d want to start reading it as soon as it was in my hands.

I wish I had this much space in my apartment for books.

I wish I had this much space in my apartment for books. (photo © Stewart Butterfield via Flickr / Creative Commons)

As I’ve been anticipating diving into Nina’s imagining of Rembrandt’s Amsterdam, I couldn’t help but think of the other novels on my overflowing bookshelf that could join The Anatomy Lesson should I wish to organize a shelf by theme. From the runaway hit that was Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code to the more recent popularity of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, it’s clear that both art and museums are rich sources of inspiration for authors of all types.

We spoke to Nina last week about the novel and her research into the Rembrandt masterpiece that inspired it (see this blog post), and here’s what she had to say about the trend:

I think the territory is fertile in part because these Old Master paintings have so much in them — so much that can be explored — history, beauty, layers of meaning, interesting social context.

If The Anatomy Lesson makes you hungry for more, here are some suggestions to help you start your art and museum themed book club, add to your nightstand stack or just admire the awesome artwork on the covers.


Image courtesy the author.

For lovers of historical fiction:
Nina Siegal’s The Anatomy Lesson
Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring

For lovers of suspense, mystery, and intrigue:
Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch
Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code
Noah Charney’s The Art Thief
Douglas Preston’s Relic
B.A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger

For an inside, albeit fictitious, look at working in museums:
Mary Kay Zuravleff’s The Bowl is Already Broken

Sujata Massey’s The Bride’s Kimono

And we can’t forget the younger crowd! Check out these books for children and young adults:
Blue Baillett’s Chasing Vermeer and The Calder Game
Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck
E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Amy de la Haye’s Clara Button and the Magical Hat Day

Do you have a favorite that’s not listed here? Do you have a favorite artwork you think could inspire a great novel?

And don’t forget to join us for Nina’s presentation tonight!

Meet the Author: Nina Siegal presents THE ANATOMY LESSON
Tuesday, March 11th
7pm – Free
Peabody Essex Museum, Morse Auditorium



  1. Victoria says:


    Thank you for this post. What a great roundup. I cannot help but add a few more that I have enjoyed over the years:

    - “An Object of Beauty” by Steve Martin: a novel whose protagonist – if she may so be called – gives us a fictionalized inside view of the art world, particularly auction houses and galleries

    - “The Gardner Heist” by Ulrich Boser: actually true, but reads almost like a thriller, replete with tales of the underground art market.

    - “The Museum of Innocence” by Orhan Pamuk: a love story that complete shifts the notion of what a museum can be, and what is worth collecting and preserving (this is also a real “museum” in Istanbul, where the story is set, which I visited and will not soon forget).

  2. Caryn M. Boehm
    Caryn Boehm says:

    Thanks, Victoria, these sound like great reads! I almost added a non-fiction category to the list so that I could include The Gardner Heist.

  3. Gail says:

    The Agony and the Ecstasy used to be popular and also Lust for Life, both by Irving Stone.

  4. Gregory Herr says:

    Great post — thanks for asking a question – that’s how you start the conversation and get us connected! I was hoping my old friend Mrs. Frankweiler would make the list, and was pleased to scroll down and see it. A bit more kiddie lit — The Night at the Museum was a fine children’s book before it was a movie and then a “junior novelization,” whatever that is. Not much art but it is a museum. (And who knows what that bison in the Art and Nature Center gets up to once the lights go out!)

  5. It’s great to see the list here…
    I just finished and loved Pictures at an Exhibition, a book by Sara Houghteling, (the title is taken from the musical suite by Mussorgsky) which deals with World War II and art looting by the Nazis told from the point of view of an art dealer’s son. The fictionalized story expands into the son’s search for a mystery in his family’s past and vivid descriptions of the art world, including some unscrupulous dealings by French gallery owners themselves. One of the characters is based on the real-life Rose Valland, who worked at the Louvre and saved many works of art by her secret record keeping during the occupation. I listened to this as a book on CD during my PEM drive time and highly recommend it – the French pronunciations and dramatic reading were superb!

    Next stop – Monuments Men – a movie I’ve been looking forward to seeing dealing with the same subject.

  6. Caryn M. Boehm
    Caryn Boehm says:

    Thanks for these awesome suggestions. I’m not sure my nightstand will be able to withstand all these additions to my “Must Read” list. Maybe I’ll have to give into reading e-books, although I am much more partial to the tactile experience of paper books.

  7. Victoria says:

    I love these additions. One more, and how could I forget: Edmund De Waal’s “Hare with the Amber Eyes”. All about how a collection can tell the history of a family through the generations. The book is part memoir, part history lesson, and part genealogical homage via the famous potter turned author’s family netsuke collection.

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