‘The Art Forger’: a book that needs no labels to be enjoyed

One of the great things about the introduction and acceptance of the e-Reader over the past few years is that it seems to be breaking down those arbitrary genre lines that have been set by publishers and bookstores for aeons.

Just as the introduction of home video and computers allowed people to watch as much porn as they like without ever being seen slinking into a porn theater or adult book store, the e-Reader frees people up to enjoy books without labels (or potentially embarrassing covers).

Real men can read romance.

Real women can read smut.

And  no worries about someone on a train or a plane — or the next beach blanket over — seeing you with a book you might not want other people knowing you are reading.

Arbitrary classification of books is ridiculously limiting, as I learned when I enjoyed B.A. Shapiro’s new novel “The Art Forger” — just out in paperback from Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill — and then spoke with the author about her long journey to publication.

A slew of editors and publishing houses rejected the book, telling the writer they liked “The Art Forger” — as well they should, since it is a very good story, very well told — but they didn’t know how to sell it (i.e. what to call it).

Shapiro’s book has elements of classic mystery, romance and thriller as it follows a young Boston artist who is hired to make a copy of one of the paintings stolen in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist two decades ago.

Certainly, “The Art Forger” qualifies as a suspense novel since it keeps you turning the pages, wondering if Claire Roth is going to get away with her deception, and whether or not she is doing anything truly illegal.

Shapiro’s story also works as a philosophical examination of the differences between something “real” and a “copy” and whether or not people in power know, or care about, the difference.

Fortunately for the writer (and for us) her own story had a happy ending. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill bought the manuscript and then supported it with a strong promotional campaign that led to good hardcover sales and now a paperback reprint.

Rather than put the book into a niche, the publisher trusted in the quality of the material, prepared it with obvious belief in it, and put it out  for everyone to enjoy (the book was published last week).

Who knows how many books as good as “The Art Forger” — and as hard to classify — never found their way into the right hands?

Joe Meyers