Feb 1, 2008

Dear Theo

the Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh
edited by Irving Stone

Another book I quit part-way through. Dear Theo is a compilation of letters that Van Gogh wrote to his brother over the span of thirty years. Irving Stone edited them heavily, cutting what was at first 1,670 pages down to the still-massive 572 I attempted to read. But he didn't include any breaks between letters, so you have no idea where one missive ends and the next begins. And there are only a half-dozen pictures included. Every page seems to mention numerous drawings and paintings done by Van Gogh himself, or other artists he admired (most of whom I never heard of). I would have appreciated seeing more pictures of what he was talking about.

The book didn't reach the point where Van Gogh was actually painting until about page 170, then it began to get a little more interesting for me; I did like reading his thoughts on art and techniques, but there were just so many words to slog through to glean them. Perhaps it was the stiff syntax (he wasn't a writer, after all) but I just didn't enjoy it. The last time I had the book open, I actually fell asleep reading it, woke up hours later and didn't know what happened! I'm usually conscious when I get too tired to continue reading and set a book aside. I think I would have done better to read a biography written by somebody else. Dear Theo, in my opinion, has merit as a reference book but not much else for me.

These are some things of interest I learned about Van Gogh from what I did manage to read (200 pages):

His father was a pastor; Van Gogh originally was studying for a position in the clergy, but failed to finish school.
He was in love with a cousin and wanted to marry her, but the family rebuffed him.
He was a reader, and especially like Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens.
At first he focused on drawing figures, and professed not to be a landscape artist (yet the paintings I know best of his are landscapes!)
He took in a pregnant unmarried woman off the streets, lived with her and the child for some time, and wanted to marry her.
He never could hold down a job, and was continually supported by Theo's money (even when the woman and child were living with him).
He was extremely prolific, drawing and painting continually (900 paintings and over 1,000 drawings in ten years).

Abandoned                 572 pages, 1937


  1. does this make three books in a row you have stopped reading? I have learned that if I am not enjoying a book, it is not worth my time to read it. I finally gave up on War and Peace to find something that would be more escapist. I need to escape from my thesis every now and then.

  2. Yes; that's three in a row that I've quit on. I finally figured if I'm not enjoying a book, there's plenty others out there waiting for me.

    I am still not very good at evaluating books to know beforehand if I will really like them. Most after a line or two I can tell I won't care for it; these don't even make it home from the library. But others take me over twenty pages (or more). I used to feel compelled to finish whatever I started reading, but not any more. There's too much to read to waste it on books I don't like.


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