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Novels can sometimes take readers in new directions

Shelf Life: Rachael Mason

I love books that push you in directions you might not have gone in otherwise. "Keeping the World Away" by Margaret Forster (Ballantine, $24.95) is one of those books.

I picked up this novel because the book jacket mentioned Rodin, who is one of my favorite artists. But what I didn't know is that "Keeping the World Away" would introduce me to an entirely new artist, one whose work now interests me even though I haven't seen a single piece of it.

The first chapter of the novel introduces a British girl named Gwen. She doesn't enjoy being around other people that much, but she's always liked drawing. The story follows Gwen as she goes off to London to attend art school, then moves to Paris to paint.

In France, Gwen earns extra money by posing as an artist's model. She goes to Rodin's studio and offers to pose for him, which is the start of their affair.

When Gwen isn't with Rodin, she can hardly function. Afraid that she'll miss one of his visits, she rarely leaves her little attic apartment, choosing instead to stay there and paint her surroundings. She works on her painting of the room obsessively, even as Rodin stops coming by almost entirely.

Gwen gives one of her paintings of the room to a friend, who loses it during a luggage mix-up. The painting ends up with a girl named Charlotte instead. The rest of the novel focuses on the path of the painting and how much it means to each of its owners.

Both the story and the characters were fascinating. Forster's writing includes descriptions that are so vivid, it was always easy to imagine exactly what everything in the book looks like - even the painting.

What I didn't realize until I got to the last pages of the book was that Gwen John (1876-1939) was an actual person and her paintings of her room in Paris are quite real. I'm looking forward to finding out more about Gwen and finally seeing some of her work.

Many of the books I read don't typically have such lasting effects, but a little light reading is often just what I'm in the mood for.

In the chick-lit novel "Five Things I Can't Live Without" by Holly Shumas (5 Spot, $12.99), the narrator, Nora Bishop, has no idea what direction her life should take. She can't stop worrying about everything, including her career path, her unrealized dreams of becoming a writer and her relationship with her boyfriend.

When Nora decides to start a business helping people write their online dating profiles, she thinks she's finally found the key to happiness. But she forgets that things aren't that easy and quickly becomes frustrated.

Each chapter of the book started with a different dating profile, which I really liked. They all included "five things I can't live without," but the lists vary from "the ocean, caffeine, good company, brown paper bags and, well, love" to "a vivid fantasy life, my passport, my work, my future love and my future dog."

In the book, Nora has a lot of friends and business contacts, and it was hard to keep them all straight. And sometimes, I just wanted to tell Nora to stop being neurotic.

But as is the case with most chick lit, I did enjoy reading the book. And I can't stop thinking about what my five things might be. Books, books, books, books and books?

If you'd like to recommend a book or writer, e-mail Rachael Mason at rachael.mason@gwinnettdailypost.com.