This is the dust jacket of the first English language edition of Stefan Bollmann’s Reading Women. It was published last year by Merrell with a foreword by Karen Jay Fowler. It is the first book devoted to the history of women reading in art. With one hundred color illustrations ranging from Simone Martini’s Annunciation, 1333 which shows Jesus’s mom Mary being a bit startled at having her reading interrupted by a golden angel, to Eve Arnold’s photograph of Marilyn Monroe reading a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Each image is accompanied by a paragraph or two placing it in its historical context. The power of the book lies in it simplicity and in its clear message; reading as a powerful solitary experience and an inherently subversive activity.
The Guardian has a nice piece to complement the book called Solitary Pleasures where they survey a bunch of writers asking them to choose their favorite picture from the book. The article includes links to many of the images.
Another book that came out last year that is worth a mention is Garrett Stewart’s The Look of Reading: Book, Painting, Text published by the University of Chicago Press. Though a more scholarly work and challenging at times to follow, it does, through it’s numerous illustrations, present a visual feast of the “scene of reading painted over the centuries.” Stewart argues, rightfully so I might add, for a new genre in the study of art history; “the reading scene as genre.” Stewart takes us on an empowering journey through the history of art from the late thirteenth century to Mark Tansey’s 1990 work Reader. It is a treat to see so many of the major artists in the history of western civilization incorporating the book in their work. It not only represents the books importance to our culture but guarantees the book a place in our visual history.