Swann Summer Reading List 2022

Summer is well underway which means our auction schedule has slowed and our specialists and staff have a bit more downtime to catch up on their favorite books. Enjoy this year’s selection of Swann picks shared below. (See our lists from 201720182019, 2020, and 2021!)

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

Nicholas D. Lowry

For those of you who are considering risking taking a flight this summer and experiencing the full force of Travel Armageddon, I can very highly recommend the following book which I picked up in the airport prior to a flight to Boise, ID, earlier this summer: The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough. I realize this isn’t a recent book, it was published in 2015. But it was new to me when I came across it. McCullough was a professor of mine for one semester during college and since then I have been a fervent follower and enjoyer of all that he has written— The Johnstown Flood, Mornings on Horseback, The Great Bridge, The Path Between the Seas, 1776, John Adams, and The Greater Journey. He writes and presents history in such a light and accessible manner that one feels that McCullough was almost there when the events he was chronicling took place. Even for historical stories that I never thought I would be interested in, like the making of the Panama Canal and the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, he manages to make the history compelling, alive, and eminently readable. I am embarrassed to say I hadn’t heard about his Wright Brothers tome until I stumbled across it in an airport bookstore, but I am glad I did. It made an otherwise unpleasant trip, pleasant and rewarding.

Portrait of a Thief by Grace Li

Deborah Rogal
Director, Photograph & Photobooks

I love a good heist story, and Grace Li’s Portrait of a Thief has it all–suspense, late-night museum break-ins, sleek cars and car racing, and stolen art. In this novel, a group of Chinese American college students are recruited to steal art from American and European museums and repatriate the pieces to a Chinese collector. For an art lover, the book brings up compelling questions around ownership and where art belongs, but it is also offers breathtaking feats and compelling characters who are processing their own questions, the Chinese diaspora, identity, and desires. Similarly, Counterfeit by Kristin Chen is a caper novel about two women who are involved in a counterfeit luxury handbag ring. A fun romp about con artists, the novel turns the premise on its head to examine the American dream, the so-called model minority, and what it means to get what you want.

The Lonely City: The Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing

Jennifer De Candia
Administrator & Client Relations, Vintage Posters

My pick for a summer reading recommendation is actually a book I’m currently re-reading—Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Liang. I originally read this book prior to the pandemic, but its insight into the lonely corners and lonely artists of New York City has only deepened after the events of the last two-and-a-half years. More of an examination of artistic depictions of loneliness than a memoir, this book nevertheless thoroughly explores a phenomenon that is simultaneously universal and singular. Liang writes extensively about Edward Hopper‘s work, and this re-read is made all the more enriching after seeing the material offered in our most recent auction, which focused on the artist and his contemporaries. e black and white etching in Night Shadows perfectly encapsulates Hopper’s reputation for depicting isolating imagery, perhaps even more so than his more colorful paintings.) Liang’s writing, much like the art she discusses, offers some solace to any lonely New Yorker—in a city filled with people and art, no one is ever truly alone. 

New Grounds for Dutch Landscape by Lytle Shaw

James Macry
Administrator, Prints & Drawings

I’m catching up on some art history reading this summer with Lytle Shaw’s New Grounds for Dutch Landscape. Shaw presents an experimental new take on the so-called Dutch ‘Golden Age’ of landscape painting, examining seventeenth-century masters Jan van Goyen, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Meindert Hobbema not as Dutch nationalist painters or creators of a secular sublime, but instead focuses on the materiality of their works as analogs to the changing Dutch landscape itself. New Grounds asks many more questions than it answers, has a wild and earnestly argued take, and a good amount of humor. The perfect art history book for the beach. Reading about Ruisdael’s dunes with your feet in the sand? That’s a summer read for me!

Dear Senthruan: A Black Spirit Memoir by Akwaeke Emezi

Christine von der Linn
Director, Illustration Art

I’m currently reading Dear Senthuran, the memoir by Nigerian writer Akwaeke Emezi*. The chapters, which are written in the form of letters to friends, lovers, and family, as well as muses, like the late Toni Morrison, are incredibly raw, vulnerable, and powerful statements of self-truth. Throughout this correspondence, they describe their unusual career path, which interweaves with decisions about their gender and body. Though the author identifies as non-binary transgender, which certainly informs their writing and experiences, this does not define—or confine—Emezi, whose writing is so beautiful and unique that it defies categorization. Theirs was, and is, among the fiercest and most determined stories of unwavering belief in one’s voice and mission, their words screaming out to fully blossom as a creative and as a human being (and as a living spirit, as Emezi also embodies the concept of Nigerian ogbanje). It’ll wow you with its bravery and make you want to take risks if you can believe in yourself with even a drop of that ferocity. I’ll spend the rest of my summer savoring their words and trying to manifest some of that resolution.

*Emezi was a 2019 Swann Galleries Book Club pick with their debut novel Freshwater!

Satan is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers by Charlie Louvin

John D. Larson
Specialist, Literature & Art Books

It’s a family affair. The Louvin Brothers, Ira and Charlie, are country music’s unrivaled harmony duet. How they achieved that exalted position after decades of toil as told by Charlie is a testimony to brothers in arms as much as brothers at each other’s throats.
You’ll remember the book for inspired vignettes, rich in detail though plainly put down and all the more memorable for that: an unknown Johnny Cash, barely in his teens, unshod and penniless, bashfully stands outside a gig until Charlie nudges him in; Ira repeatedly splintering his mandolin onstage in drunken fury; the repeated brush-offs from a blowhard at the Grand Ol’ Opry. Elvis is here too, genially showing some gospel chops backstage until Ira goes major bummer per his usual.
And for any unfortunate plagued by a parent who vexes with the age-old plaint “When are you gonna get a real job?” the brothers devise a hilarious scheme to quiet their old man even whilst evoking that most poignant and timeless plea: “Oh fahter, fahter, gone among o eeys that loke, loke fahter: your sone!”

Boyfriend Perspective by Michael Chang

Corey Serrant
Cataloguer, African American Art

Over the humid summer, I’m reading Michael Chang’s Boyfriend Perspective, a cacophonous collection of contemporary poetry that boldly crosses every line possible. Engaging in subjects from American politics, gender expression, sexual orientation to fashion, literary and visual culture in one poem, Chang is a wordsmith that seduces you to ruminate over each stanza. Like the Akan God of Stories, Anasi, they use the lexicons of Chinese, English, and French to weave poems in a postmodern form and style. Each work reads like a text message thread between you and your best friends. The conclusion of Rules for American Life declares 

“The Golden Rule of America is that you’ll never be enough -; masculine enough, athletic enough, funny enough, pure enough, rich enough . . .so why not have fun & fuck shit up while you’re at it.”

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

Andrew M. Ansorge
Vice President & Comptroller

A fabulous read by a wonderful author recounting the life story of female aviator Marian Graves through the first half of the twentieth century. Vivid characters that jump off the page and with who you want to spend more time.  This is a delight and was on the Booker Prize shortlist this year.

The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante

Kelsie Jankowski
Communications Manager

I’ve been slowly working my way through Elena Ferrante’s backlist and recently finished The Lost Daughter. A quick read at 146 pages, The Lost Daughter tells the story of Leda, a middle-aged woman on vacation, and her fascination with a fellow vacationing family, particularly Nina, a young mother.

I enjoy Ferrante’s frank and often unflattering portrayal of women, motherhood, and female relationships, and this story brings all of these motifs together in a grittier way than the previous works I’ve read by her. If you’re a fan of an antihero this book, and Ferrante, is for you!

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Maddie L. Ligenza
Digital Media Associate

After spending one soft yet fateful July traversing across the mountains and plains of the West, I found myself lost in the refuge of Haruki Murakami’s surrealist world-between-worlds. Each summer since, I have made it a ritual to visit a new text by the author.

This year, in hopes of recapturing the magic realism often interweaved between Murakami’s parallel plots, I have selected Norwegian Wood. Although I won’t find myself catching a glimpse of a mountain peak or reading in the shade of a backseat, I know that these pages will drive me through landscapes where one never knows where dreams end and reality begins.

Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

Swann Galleries Book Club

Read along with the house’s book club! Our July pick is Ottessa Moshfegh’s Death in Her Hands —a mystery to keep us engaged this summer!

Our past picks have included:

  • The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt
  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen
  • The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon
  • Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi


Support independent booksellers!

Of course, we encourage you to support a locally owned and operated bookstore near you. Here’s a list of indie stores in New York, compiled by the Gothamist, and a list for Black-owned bookstores nationwide, compiled by Literary Hub. If you are seeking book-themed viewing material, we might recommend the documentary on the New York rare and antiquarian book trade, The Booksellers.

July 14, 2022
Category: Swann