Nonfiction that reads like a novel is like dark chocolate: an indulgent treat that's also good for you.

"Strapless" by Deborah Davis is the delicious true account of artist John Singer Sargent and the story behind his most famous painting, Madame X.

You would recognize the painting in an instant: a tall, pale, stately young woman with a fabulous figure, dressed in an alluring black velvet evening gown, her face turned away in profile. Versions of her are everywhere. Nicole Kidman copied the pose on the cover of Vogue. There is a Madame Alexander doll of her that fetches top dollar at auction. But as familiar as we are with the iconic painting, the woman herself, Amelie Gautreau, is hardly a household name. Being painted by Sargent changed Amelie's life, and her scandalous wardrobe malfunction, while posing for him, changed history. Behind the pose is a story of complex relationships and life-altering decisions. Set in 19th-century Paris, the book reveals the power and mystery behind art, fashion and reputation that is still relevant today.

"Strapless" is in paperback, it's in the library, and it's decadent food for thought.

Mary Droge, Charleston