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Picturing a World

What makes this book so happy (3): Skill

West with the Night by Beryl Markham is the first title on Prevention’s list of 55 Happy Books Proven to Boost Your Mood. What a pleasure to be reminded of that wonderful book! Markham grew up in Kenya, became a horse trainer, had a rich love life, took up aviation, and became the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic east to west, i.e., into prevailing headwinds. She’s a wonderful prose stylist as well as an adventurous, high-spirited person; and one thing that makes this book so happy is the way that she carries the reader along with her, experiencing her love of what she’s doing.

In writing Where the Light Falls, I wanted to enable readers to experience the joy and dedication felt by women art students in the last quarter of the 19th C when they were allowed to receive serious training in some of the ateliers in Paris. Part of characterizing them, therefore, was to include their drawing, painting, and thinking about techniques. The energetic lines, impressionistic quickness, and challenging gaze of this confident, experimental self-portrait by Berthe Morisot seems to me to catch some of the spirit I hope readers feel in Jeanette. Amy, Emily, and Sonja. In real life, Berthe’s sister Edma ceased painting after her marriage; but Berthe, who married Edouard Manet’s brother, kept on and rightly so. There is nothing to beat the happiness of acquiring the necessary skills and then doing what you feel you were born to do.

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