An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
Grand Central Publishing • $14.99 • ISBN 9780446573658
On sale now

Steve Martin's An Object of Beauty has been out for a while—the hardcover was our Top Pick in Fiction in December 2010, when you might remember that the dust-up occurred at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, when Martin angered some event planners and goers by talking more about his book than his comedy career. (Read more about that here.) However, I'm recommending the novel now because it's our Top Pick for Book Clubs in December 2011.

I decided to read this novel because a) Father of the Bride is one of my all-time favorite movies, b) our reviewer compared Martin to Henry James, Edith Wharton and F. Scott Fitzgerald in her review (yes, really), and c) I like art.

Well. First of all, I loved this book, and I ingested it in one sitting—seriously. I actually listened to the book rather than read it—I was driving home after Thanksgiving (I highly recommend the audiobook from Hachette), and for once in my life I wanted I-40 to stretch a little bit longer so I could keep listening from behind the wheel. (I opted to finish it while lying on my couch and listening to the stereo, instead of circling the neighborhood.)

The story is about Lacey Yeager, a young woman who joins the art world in the 1990s at the bottom of the latter in Sotheby's basement, then eventually works her way up to owning her own gallery. She has affairs, has questionable morals, learns to schmooze and make huge deals. Martin describes the beautiful people, places and art that fill Lacey's world, and it all feels something like a dream—until it comes crashing down, of course.

Here's an early excerpt, from when Lacey's perspective starts to shift as a young employee at Sotheby's:

At Sotheby's, she started to look at paintings differently. She became an efficient computer of values. The endless stream of pictures that passed through the auction house helped her develop a calculus of worth. Auction records were available in the Sotheby's library, and when a picture of note came in, she diligently searched the Art Price Index to see if it had auction history. She factored in condition, size, and subject matter. A Renoir of a young girl, she had witnessed, was worth more than one of an old woman. An American western picture with five tepees was worth more than a painting with one tepee. If a picture had been on the market recently without a sale, she knew it would be less desirable. A deserted painting scared buyers. Why did no one want it? In the trade, it was known as being "burned." Once a picture was burned, the owner had to either drastically reduce the price or sit on it for another seven years until it faded from memory. When Lacey began these computations, her toe crossed ground from which it is difficult to return: she started converting objects of beauty into objects of value.

Are you interested in reading An Object of Beauty? What are you reading today?

Got any audiobook recommendations for my next drive home?

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