What should you read this weekend? USA TODAY's picks for book lovers include a new biography of American painter Norman Rockwell, and essays about reading by Britain's Nick Hornby.
American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell by Deborah Solomon; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 441 pp.; non-fiction
Why is it that so many great artists were so screwed up? Even Norman Rockwell. Norman Rockwell, for pete's sake!
He is the cornball king, the artist as fantasy storyteller, the artist of Americana. But was he a "real" artist? Art-world types argue about it to this day. Even Rockwell (especially Rockwell) dithered, dismissing himself as a mere illustrator while secretly longing to be taken seriously as an ARTIST, all caps.
As his new biographer, Deborah Solomon, makes clear, Rockwell was more than an illustrator. He painted arresting images that move us, inspire us, amuse us, that tell us something about ourselves and our times.
But his full story is often surprising.
If you thought you knew what Rockwell was all about, well, Solomon suggests maybe not. Did you know that he spent years in therapy with a leading psychiatrist — Erik Erikson — decades before seeing a shrink was routine?
USA TODAY says ***½ out of four. "Highly readable, illuminating."
Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books; by Nick Hornby, McSweeney's, 464 pp.; non-fiction
Collects Hornby's "Stuff I've Been Reading" columns from Believer magazine.
USA TODAY says ***1/2. "Ten Years in the Tub is something to soak in and savor."
Stella Bain; by Anita Shreve, Little, Brown, 261 pp.; fiction
In Marne, France, in 1916, a woman drifts into consciousness on a battlefield hospital cot and realizes "that she does not know her own name."
USA TODAY says ***. "An intriguing character study that delivers compelling mystery without melodrama."
Double Down: Game Change 2012 by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann; Penguin Press, 482 pp.; non-fiction
The authors' sequel to the best seller Game Change looks back at the last presidential election.
USA TODAY says *** ½ out of four. "Heilemann and Halperin's ability to get behind the scenes and into Obama's head makes Double Down nearly as riveting as their first work about the 2008 election."
Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith; Simon & Schuster, 304 pp.; fiction
Investigator Arkady Renko is on the case after an investigative journalist named Tatiana Petrovna – inspired by the real-life Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya – dies after falling from the balcony of her abandoned apartment building.
USA TODAY says *** ½ out of four. "Smith's writing conveys irony, social commentary and wry humor in whippet-sleek phrasing."
Contributing reviewers: Maria Puente, Korina Lopez, Jocelyn McClurg, Aamer Madhani, Patty Rhule