Musebooks — a Great Online Source for Art Books

I’ve been meaning to let you know about a great site for finding digital books about art and artists.  Musebooks has a growing collection of digitized books on art history and contemporary artists.  Some books are as little as $3.00.

I am presently reading a book on Kerry James Marshall, whose work I love.  I’ll review the book when I have finished it.




I have started my own shelf of books about everything from art nouveau to How to Read Art.  They give you free samples to check out before you buy.   You get access to exhibit catalogs and books that you might not find anywhere else.

And although some of the books are very expensive, most are affordable and cheaper than you can get them from any other bookstore.  Also, you get a free book just for signing up.

Check it out and see what you think.  I highly recommend them.

Here’s a video of their site and how the books work.  I particularly love the zoom features.

The essentials of Musebooks from Musebooks on Vimeo.

And here’s information about them from their website:

About Musebooks

Musebooks is the first digital reading experience specially designed for art lovers. Easily switch between reading the text, leafing through the pages and zooming in on images — and never lose your spot in the book. Your books are stored in your personal online library, MyBooks. Discover now the alternative to e-books that is revolutionizing the way we read about art. Sign up to get your first book for free.

Musebooks Founders

The trio of Belgian innovators behind are publishing professional Peter Ruyffelaere, marketing mastermind Noël Slangen, and information technology ingénue Dominique de Rijcke.

Dominique De Rijcke (38) is an experienced tech entrepreneur, owning several IT firms. Dominique and Noël have worked together many times, creating several international IT platforms for multinationals and organisations. 

Noël Slangen (52) has been a successful entrepreneur in the communication industry in Belgium and the Netherlands for nearly 30 years. He is used to managing large teams, working with stakeholders and advising major clients.

Peter Ruyffelaere (57) has a track record in producing art books at Ludion, was responsible for the merchandising of the Magritte Foundation, and has worked with some of the world’s most important museums in co-productions of museum catalogues.


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The Illuminated Brain

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I haven’t always had a good relationship with my brain.  I developed neurological problems when I was 16, including epilepsy and muscle deterioration.  At the time, back in 1976, they didn’t have things like MRIs and my condition remained a mystery most of my life.   
My second neurologist gave me the diagnosis of “abnormal,” which I will always be proud of.  My condition is still a mystery but I now know I have a lesion in my spine, and I have a diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis.  I no longer have seizures, but I have some cognitive blips, and wrestle with fatigue, depression, and occasional mania.  For awhile, I was pretty sure my brain was trying to kill me. 
Luckily I found the books of Dr. Oliver Sacks.  His work made me feel like I would eventually understand my brain.  More importantly, he has such a profound respect for “abnormalities” and all the ways the brain overcomes damage, regenerates itself, and creates new modes of perception, that I began to think my brain and I could be friends. 
I’ve recently fallen in love with the book Neurocomic by Dr. Hana Ros and Matteo Farinella, beautifully published by Nobrow this year.  It combines all the best elements of science, art, humor, story and information.  It illuminates the brain in new and wonderful ways.
The book opens with a man who starts to flirt with a woman then finds himself sucked into her brain.  His quest is to get back out so he can continue to pursue her.  He has no idea where he is and wanders through a neuron forest until he runs into Santiago Roman y Cajal, a “Spanish neuroscientist and Nobel Laureate (1852-1934)…considered as the father of neuroscience, although he always had a great passion for drawing.” 
Thus begins our hero’s journey through neuron forests, memory caves, and castles of deception.  Along the way, he runs into pioneers of neuroscience who seem to delight in sending him into even more mysterious places.  It amused me to think of neuroscientists spending eternity studying inside a living brain.  Is that heaven for them?  The scientists are only the beginning of the zaniness.  There’s a giant squid seeking revenge for experiments on its giant axons.  There’s an aplysia snail playing banjo.  We run into Pavlov and his dog.
It’s an altogether engrossing and entertaining way to learn about the brain.  We often see science as stuffy and serious, but this book injects so much playfulness and humor into neuroscience, that it’s an irresistible way to learn.  The drawings are lively and expressive.  I love the playful way brain functions are characterized.   
Dr. Hana Ros is neuroscientist with a PhD from Oxford University.  Matteo Farinella is an illustrator specializing in graphic journalism and scientific illustration.  Farinella received a PhD in neuroscience from the University College in London.
The story format helps illuminate both what is known and how much is still not known.  It’s a mysterious world, the world of the brain, and Neurocomic celebrates that mystery as much as the science.  Ros states in a video about the book that it’s difficult to explain what’s going on in the brain without the use of metaphors.  That our brains can make metaphors is miraculous to me, and that we can understand so much more about everything in terms of story and metaphor is, I think, the most comforting thing about this book.
The other comforting thing is the book itself.  Nobrow has done a stellar job in publishing it.  It’s a delight to hold and behold.  I worry that the era of beautiful books has come to an end with ebooks, but publishers like Nobrow are putting those fears to rest.  
Nobrow started 2008 in the UK, with the aim to provide an independent platform for graphic art, illustration and art.  It’s become a leading proponent of quality in book design and a standard bearer for original creative content in print publishing.
Neurocomic’s cover and spine are embossed with gold and silver ink.  

It has beautiful endpapers.
One of the problems with graphic novels is picture size.  Often the panels are so small, you lose impact.  Neurocomic has big panels and whole pages devoted to one frame.
It’s a charming way of learning a complex subject, and invites re-reading.  I think I’ll take it with me to read the next time I go to the neurologist.  
To learn more about Neurocomic, click here.  There’s a great video of the authors done by The Guardian here.
To see more amazing books by Nobrow, click here.    
If you missed my last post on the poetic astrophysics book, The Edge of the Sky by Dr. Roberto Trotta, you can read it here.
Remember, books make the best gifts.  If you liked this post, please feel free to share it. 

Head, Tails, Storks

Last week I read two very different books.  One was written last year, and the other in the 1950s.

First the contemporary one, which I found through a book review.

When I first picked up Heads or Tails by Lilli Carre, Fantagraphic Books, 2012, I wasn’t sure I would like it.  The strange graphic style of the cover, especially the nose and facial features, were not really a style that I liked.  But I’d heard great things about it, so I began to read and I was fascinated.  The stories are weird, dream-like and surreal, with a bit of existentialist humor.  They also reveal a remarkable compassion for characters trying to puzzle out their lives.

The cover blurb says, “…the stories contained touch on ideas of flip sides, choices and extreme ambivalence.”   In “Wishy Washy,” a judge of floral arrangements survives a car accident but loses his ability to judge and make decisions.  In “Welcome to my Kingdom” a single snazzily dressed man is increasing boxed in by the borders of his life and the page.  “The Carnival” is a ambling story that combines ideas of floods, flight, romance, family and solitude into a circular story that left me with the same feeling I get when I’ve had a particularly vivid dream.  It’s rife with meanings that I can’t quite put into words.

Which is part of the lure of this book — it’s told in ways that you can’t put into words.  The graphic elements are an integral part of the story.  It’s more than an illustrated story — it’s a dance.  There are a few sequences under the title “Short Bits” that deal with the whole dance of life — the words, the movement, what happens in reality, and what happens in our minds and hearts. In “The Thing About Madeline,” a woman finds her own double working at her customer service desk one morning.  She becomes a spy in her own life, then develops a whole new existence. In spare prose and jittery drawings, ideas of identity are deftly explored and exposed.

Then there are moments of great humor — my favorite being the last drawing The Woman With Something Stuck Between Her Teeth.

Lilli Carre won acclaim with the graphic novel The Lagoon.  Her work has appeared in The Best American Comics, 2008, and the Best American Non-Required Reading, 2010.

You can find out more about her here:

Here’s a little video of how the book looks:


The other book I read was much more traditional.  The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong, Illustrated by Maurice Sendak, was published in 1954 and won the John Newberry Medal.  It’s a  novel for ages 10 and up, and is still in print.  I got mine at the library. I found it by googling “children’s book fishing village,” since I’m working on a picture book set in a fishing village.  I love the way books come to me.  It didn’t have the pictures I was looking for, but it had everything I needed in a good story.

At almost 300 pages, it is a warm, sweet book that follows a group of school children in a small Dutch village.  Lina, one of six children in the village school, wrote a paper on storks, but admitted to only knowing what her aunt from another village told her.  In that village, every Spring, people put wagon wheels on their roofs, as a foundation for a nest. “(Storks) build great big messy nests, sometimes right on your roof.  But when they build a nest on the roof of a house, they bring good luck to that house and to the whole village that that house stands in. Storks do not sing.  They make a noise like you do when you clap your hands when you feel happy and good…on your roof they are noisy.  But it is a happy noise, and I like happy noises!”

The children are instructed to try to figure out why storks no longer visit their village.  Lina finds out from an old woman that there used to be storks but the village trees had been lost in storms and no one even put a wagon wheel on their roof anymore.  What ensues is an adventure that takes each child out into the village to find a wheel to put on the school and lure a stork couple to the village.  They are told  to look “where one could be and where one couldn’t possibly be.”  In their search, they learn about their elders, their history, and their own bravery.  In a charming turn of events, they discover the meanest man in the village, who uses a wheelchair and is rumored to have had his legs bitten off by sharks,  is in fact, their best ally.  The storks begin to bring good luck even before the first ones fly overhead on their migration from Africa.

Encounters with irate farmers, terrible storms and grumpy fathers keeps the children on their toes.  Each child is developed in the course of the story and the village comes to life in the masterful storytelling of DeJong.

It was delightful to read this — it was slow paced and soothing at times, at other times an engrossing page turner.  There were moments when the children’s ears were boxed and they were paddled when I wondered if such scenes would be acceptable in a contemporary children’s novel.  There were vivid and detailed descriptions of the buildings, boats, tides, dykes and terrain — descriptive elements often left out in the fast pace of modern novels.

I loved reading it in bed with a cup of tea.  It has community and environmental themes that are very contemporary and valuable, but it has a nostalgic feel to it. The illustrations for this are very spare, rendered  in ink and wash by Maurice Sendak and add to the quaint. cozy feeling of the book.  I hope I get a chance to read it out-loud to someone someday. 

One more thing, I found this article on the film “Girl Rising” in this morning’s paper.  A trailer for the film is included.  It’s a documentary addressing the question “What would happen if more of the world’s 66 million uneducated girls were allowed to receive the same schooling as their male counterparts?”

I look forward to seeing it and I hope we all get a chance to help improve the lives of girls.

I hope you get to read something wonderful soon.  Remember, books require no batteries and transport you through time and space in the most magical way.

Young Reader Review: Coming of Age Through a Snake

Mamba Point by Kurtis Scaletta

I found out about Mamba Point by Kurtis Scaletta (Knopf, 2010) through the blogger Jennifer Clark Estes who gives great book reviews on children’s books on A Mom’s World (   The premise that an anxious, awkward 12 year old boy created a new identity by finding a magical connection with a venomous snake was too good to pass over.  It turned out to be a remarkable, gentle story of reconnecting to nature and coming of age.

Set in the 1980s, 12 year old Linus Tuttle gets an opportunity to remake himself when his father gets a job at the U.S. Embassy in Liberia.  He’s determined to become a new cool Linus, but as soon as he gets off the plane, he begins to see black mambas, a rare poisonous snake, wherever he goes.  A local merchant tells him of the Liberian belief in “kaseng.”

“You might call it a totem.  That’s an American Indian word for the same thing.  Usually it is a tribe that has a kaseng.  There are leopard people, and bush-cow people, and dove people.  But some people have their own kaseng.  A person might be born with a strong connection to the mongoose or the frog.”

The black mamba is NOT a connection that Linus wants.  The same merchant tells him,  “If you do believe in it, and you do have a kaseng, you should not fear your animal.  They do not want to hurt you.  If you accept it, it will give you strength.”

In learning to accept his kaseng with the black mamba, Linus gets bolder, but also careless, and he has a hard lesson of responsibility to learn.  One man’s source of strength can be a source of danger for others.

Scaletta deftly handles the cultural differences between Liberians and Americans, between young and old, powerful and weak.  He doesn’t over dramatize or moralize; he tells a tale that leaves a lot of room for thought.  He builds a compelling story with humor, danger and insight, and doesn’t sacrifice good narrative for drama.

I think of it as I watch people around me, what their kaseng might be, what animal identity would give them power.  Especially since it is the Halloween season, when everyone is trying to find to find some alter ego, or magical spirit, to slip into — we’re all in search of something to strengthen us against the coming winter harshness.

I think it’s a wonderful story of coming to know your strengths and limits in the larger world.  There’s an intangible quality to it that provides a bit of metaphor for understanding human relations to the animal world, but also the first world to the third world.

Scaletta was born in Louisiana and grew up in several states and foreign countries, including Liberia.  His website is here:

If you’re looking for a good, snaky story for the season that’s not all creepy and morbid, this one will feel perfect.