Westport, CT - If reading is a solitary act, the form of the book galvanizes us for communal discussion, debate, and celebration. Established in 2002, WestportREADS continues the storied tradition of reading a book together to strengthen community engagement in literature.
The 2024 WestportREADS selection is The Art Thief by Michael Finkel, the true-crime tale of the world’s most prolific art thief, Stéphane Breitwieser, who stole, never for money, but for personal treasure and adoration.
Select copies of the book are available for borrowing now at The Westport Library, with the full complement of WestportREADS volumes arriving in December. The Art Thief is also available as a digital copy (e-book) and as an audiobook.
A full slate of programming centered on The Art Thief begins in early January. The capstone event will be held Friday, January 26, when Finkel appears in-person at the Library to deliver the WestportREADS keynote address (registration coming soon).
“We are excited to convene around Michael Finkel’s The Art Thief in Westport’s annual celebration of literature,” said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer. “Finkel is a writer who simultaneously pushes the boundaries of truth while searching for it. The Art Thief narrative gives us the twists and turns of any great true-crime story while raising existential questions on art, capital, and values.”
Finkel (True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa; The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit) is a journalist and best-selling memoirist hailing from Northern Utah. After a prosperous run as a New York Times reporter, Finkel was terminated for compositing quotes in the 2001 story “Is Youssouf Malé A Slave?” Shortly afterward, Finkel discovered that Oregon murderer Christian Longo used “Michael Finkel” as an alias. Finkel reached out to Longo, forging a relationship that served as the basis for True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa. The book was adapted for film in 2015’s True Story, premiering at Sundance Film Festival, starring Jonah Hill, James Franco, and Felicity Jones.
Finkel’s follow-up, The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, chronicled Christopher Knight, an intentional recluse who lived for 27 years in the woods of Maine with almost no human interaction, surviving by grifting life essentials. Vanity Fair contributing editor and ABC News special correspondent Stephen Junger raved that The Stranger in the Woods was “a story that takes the two primary human relationships — to nature and to one another — and deftly upends our assumptions about both.”
Finkel’s The Art Thief arrives with similar acclaim. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Kathryn Schulz wrote in The New Yorker, “The Art Thief, like its title character, has confidence, élan, and a great sense of timing. It is propelled by suspense and surprises. … This ultra-lucrative, odds-defying crime streak is wonderfully narrated by Finkel, in a tale whose trajectory is less rise and fall than crazy and crazier. ... Part of what makes Finkel’s book so much fun is that, without exception, [Breitwieser’s] strategies are insane.”
Finkel told Esquire, “Working on this book changed the way I experience museums and commune with a work of art. Breitwieser is often low energy; then, when he walks into a museum, it’s like he’s had a triple shot of espresso. This is someone who’s very parsimonious with his words, then suddenly he’s babbling like your favorite crazy art professor. I would watch his face as he stood in front of an artwork. If he didn't like something, it was a flat face. If he liked something, it was as if he’d been electrocuted, and he’d often look around the room to see if he could commune alone with it.“
Past WestportREADS selections include Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab, Towards a More Perfect Union: Confronting Racism by Layla Saad, and Exit West by Moshin Hamid, among others.
For more past WestportREADS selections, and to learn more about the annual event, visit westportlibrary.org/WestportREADS.
Story credit: Brendan Toller
WestportREADS landing page: https://westportlibrary.org/events/westportreads/