Book: How Georgia Became O’Keeffe: Lessons on the Art of Living by Karen Karbo
Genre: Biography / Memoir / Self Help
Publisher: skirt!
Publication date: 2012
Pages: 231

Source: Library

cover of How Georgia Became O'Keeffe by Karen Karbo with red poppySummary: How Georgia Became O’Keeffe is a small, attractive book with O’Keeffe pictures at the beginning of each chapter, often paintings that are discussed in the text. But this book is about as far as one can get from dry biography or art analysis. In the first chapter, author Karen Karbo tells us:

I’m more interested in our fascination with O’Keeffe, generation after generation, museum show after museum show, biopic after biopic, “best of” list after “best of” list. What’s behind our ongoing one-sided relationship with her image? What is it about her that speaks to us so deeply?

Thoughts: First off, I love what this book is. I kept stopping to appreciate the way biography weaves with memoir and interlaces with self-help. The experience felt new and modern and, yet, builds on the essays of Montaigne and the journaling of the American Transcendentalists. From O’Keeffe’s life we learn how to build a life that allows for creativity (get off the Internet), how to make a marriage last even when it might not have been the wisest of marriages (find his foibles amusing), and how to age well (keep moving).

In many ways, I connected with the biographer more than the subject. That’s probably a breach in serious biography, but this book wouldn’t have been nearly as fun or as helpful if it were serious biography. Plus, biographies of Georgia O’Keeffe already exist, in multitude. This book invites us on a journey to explore ourselves as modern women inspired by the paintings and life of Georgia O’Keeffe.

I got such a kick out of the little moments when Karen Karbo reveals something about herself that I’m familiar with but didn’t know others experienced in the same way. Here’s an example:

For those of us with parents who were children during the Great Depression, or those of us who paid attention during Modern U.S. History class, the year 1929 looms. In October, the world would go to hell in a handbasket.

As a reader of history and biography, I always note when that dark date in October is dead ahead, becoming anxious for the characters in the story. Of course, others feel the same way but it wasn’t an experience I shared with anyone else before.

Appeal: Vasilly of 1330v recommended this book to me — and she was right on the money. Thanks! I was so attracted to this genre that I already have The Gospel According to Coco Chanel by the same author checked out of the library as part of my preparatory reading for the France trip.

I’m sure to read the other book in the Kick Ass Women series by Karen Karbo, too: How to Hepburn. Katharine Hepburn has been my hero since before I saw her for the first time. It must have been about age 10 — is that the age when we get excited to learn about other people who share our birthdays? My “twins” are Florence Nightingale and Katharine Hepburn. I must have seen her first a couple of years later in Rooster Cogburn and then The Corn is Green on television. I would have been in college before I had the opportunity to see some of her earlier films during a classics film festival.

Near the end of How Georgia Became O’Keeffe, the third in this series (I’ll be reading them backwards), Karbo pulls the three women together for a lesson on how to be old:

O’Keeffe never lost her spunk, or her conviction that what she was up to at any given moment was somehow less important because she was older. This was also true of her fellow extreme seniors Katharine Hepburn and Coco Chanel. Hepburn lived to be ninety-six; Chanel, who smoked, died young at eighty-eight. Like O’Keeffe, they were skinny, busy, and irritated until they declined a bit, then died. They were active, didn’t eat a lot, and followed their interests. They never let anyone tell them what to do. They were always a bit pissed-off. I can only assume that this is the real recipe for longevity.

That’s a recipe I can work with!

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Signature of Joy Weese Moll


Book Review: How Georgia Became O’Keeffe — 13 Comments

  1. Yay! I’m glad you enjoyed this as much as I did. You are so right – Karen Karbo is part of what makes this bio sparkle. I can’t to read your thoughts on the other books.

  2. I did read it, and you probably don’t want to hear what I truly thought. Put it this way: one of the women in my book club ended up quitting soon after we discussed this book, because her feelings were hurt on behalf of the author. I am glad to hear that you and Vasilly enjoyed it, though!

  3. Such synchronicity! I immediately put this book down on my to-read list (unfortunately, I just checked and my library doesn’t have it yet), then I read to the end of your post and realized I just bought How to Hepburn last week! I got it for a discount price from Bookcloseouts. I also put a hold on the Coco Chanel book, which my library does have.

  4. If being a “bit pissed off” is the secret to a long life, then I should live to be a hundred and fifty-two. LOL! This book — and the others in the series — sounds like my cup of tea… I love all of these women. Thanks for the recommendation!

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