Book Club Kits

from Madison Public Library

Robert Barnes, Ragno’s Place, 1981. Pastel, 14 x 23 inches. Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Purchase, through National Endowment for the Arts grant with matching funds from Mr. and Mrs. Julian Harris and Mr. and Mrs. Frederic Renfert. Image courtesy of the artist. © Robert Barnes, 2014.

Romare Bearden, Odysseus Leaves Nausicaa from the Odysseus Suite, 1979. Screenprint, 21 ¾ x 29 ¾ inches. Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Gift of Richard E. Brock.

Todd Hido, Untitled #2154-A, from House Hunting, 1998, Cibachrome print, 24 x 20 inches. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Madison Art Center Purchase Fund. © Todd Hido.

Erik Weisenburger, Ursa Memoriam, 1998. Oil on panel, 33¾ x 23 inches. Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Purchase, through Rudolph and Louise Langer Fund.


Continue the narrative with Madison Public Library book club kits. Check out one of Madison Public Library’s book club kits and continue exploring stories with friends. Each kit includes a minimum of eight books and a reading guide featuring author information, reviews, and discussion starters. Book kits have been selected by MPL librarians to correlate with works of art in StoryBook: Narrative in Contemporary Art.

A complete list of MPL book kits may be found on its website. Kits can be checked out for a three month period. Reserve yours today.



Ragno’s Place emerged from Robert Barnes’ memory. One evening he witnessed a waiter slip, fall, and unintentionally spill food on people dining in a restaurant. According to Barnes, the restaurant owner, nicknamed Ragno, “…was furious at first until one of the customers stood up and said it wasn’t the waiter’s fault. If anything it was the proprietor’s fault for not seeing that the floor was unsafe. The fellow then proposed a toast to the waiter. Everyone joined in with more toasts for the waiter who was eventually seated like an honored guest. Ragno caught the fever and announced wine gratis for all. The evening ended well for all.”

It was this chain of events, the chaos and the resolution, that caused Barnes to reflect on the range of possible reactions to a situation, and how a particular response may shape future events. Barnes states, “When one thinks about it, life is full of small mistakes and embarrassments…and reactions. When someone falls and seems unhurt do you ignore it in order not to call attention to the fact or does one show concern? There are all sorts of actions and reactions which are puzzling…” In Ragno’s Place, Barnes imaginatively portrays a particular event, but leaves the reaction to the viewer, engaging the power that we all have to perceive, interpret, and act.

Related Book Club Kits

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

 More information on Rango's Place

Robert Barnes Teaching Page



The Greek epic The Odyssey is filled with colorful tales of overcoming obstacles in the pursuit of an overriding goal. In the segment of the story shown here, Odysseus is saying goodbye to Nausicaa, who has rescued Odysseus and helped him obtain aid from her father, King Alcinoos, to make his way back to his homeland. Romare Bearden interpreted Odysseus as an African hero, emphasizing the universality of themes in the Homeric narratives. Bearden set his story in the West African country of Benin, enabling identification with the images by African American viewers, with their own stories of exile and longing for home.

Bearden himself was no stranger to this longing. Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, he moved with his family to Harlem as a young child, part of the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to opportunities in the North. However, he continued to spend summers in North Carolina with his grandparents. During high school he lived in Pittsburgh, where his maternal grandmother ran a boarding house for the workers who had come to the North looking for employment.

Related Book Club Kits

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

 More information on Odysseus Leaves Nausicca

Romare Bearden Teaching Page
Romare Bearden on MMoCA Collects



Todd Hido photographs suburban tract homes in the San Francisco Bay Area and in his native Ohio. Working at night, he captures a moody, melancholy environment around these anonymous, isolated homes to achieve surreal, color saturated images through long exposures. His color photographs of contemporary everyday suburbia are empty of people and suggestive of abandonment or isolation. He has said, “Although I take pictures all over the country, all the neighborhoods I head towards look similar and this is not a coincidence.” Suburban sprawl affects a vast area of the country with a skewed sense of manifest destiny played out through ever-larger cookie-cutter homes.

Hido said, “Most of my photographs of homes at night have a light on in the window. That is a very important part to me as it implies that someone is in there. I have often said; ‘The lights come on and the inside seeps to the outside.’ The light being on in the window makes the picture more about the people inside—and that is what attracted me to it in the first place. That there was someone there—and I was wondering about what his or her life is like.”

Related Book Club Kits

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Tenth of December by George Saunders

 More information on Untitled #2154-A

Untitled #2154-A on MMoCA Collects



Artist Erik Weisenburger often works with a story, person, place or memory in mind, and Ursa Memoriam is no exception. He was inspired to create this painting after watching a particularly moving news story about a man in northern Wisconsin who had lured a bear into his yard with bait to shoot and kill it from the convenience of his porch. Weisenburger was overcome by the bear’s powerful beauty, and shocked by the cruel death to which it was subjected. His mesmerizing painting memorializes the bear and alludes to its saintliness in the face of needless sacrific.

The early Christian martyr Saint Sebastian is celebrated as a saint symbolizing sacrifice, resurrection, and eternal life. Weisenburger uses allegory to compare the bear with Saint Sebastian, inspiring viewers to consider betrayal from different viewpoints, and also consider the consequences of following different paths of thought and action.

Related Book Club Kits

Ape House by Sara Gruen 
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

More information on Ursa Memoriam

Erik Weisenburger Teaching Page