Review: Girl Reading by Katie Ward

I am always excited to discover a book that combines my two passions – books and art – and Girl Reading does so exceedingly well. I have been getting into reading short stories more of late, and this is a wonderful collection.

11292802Girl Reading

Katie Ward

Virago Press (2011, this edition 2012)

Short stories – historical and contemporary fiction

This is an intriguing book, it has seven chapters or stories each focusing on an image of a girl or woman reading. I have also seen it described as a novel, but while it does come together at the end, it reads more like a collection of short stories to me. There is a great range in place and time – from early Renaissance Sienna to Victorian England to a futuristic virtual world. Each story is a world of its own, and completely involving at that. I loved how the final story linked the others together, but I also feel each story/chapter was very strong on its own.

Ward creates memorable and compelling characters – the twins who had a childhood career as mediums in the Victorian story are particularly striking, as is her innocent young artist in the Bloomsbury group-esque gathering at Arnault House, and her disillusioned political assistant having a drink in a London bar in the recent past.

I was resilient when I was younger. Headstrong. No one could talk me out of anything or stop me doing something I wanted to do. Recently I have begun to have doubts. Recently I’ve realised that version of myself has gone away.

There is a range of art forms too, from an altarpiece to a sketch to a photo posted on Flickr. The descriptions of the processes of studio photography in Victorian England were very interesting, but doesn’t take away from the story. There is a note at the end of the book (and links on Ward’s website) relating to the artworks that inspired the various stories. However, they work with or without this reference point. Art is central to each narrative, but so is identity, the sitter’s appearance and their inner life.

This is a book I have been thinking about since I finished reading it. The short story is a real art, and Ward succeeded in creating characters who are nuanced and complex, and who seem to live beyond the short page count of their narratives. A book I would recommend to readers with an interest in art, or with an interested in varied and absorbing narratives about women throughout history.


Review: One More Thing: stories and other stories by B.J. Novak

One More Thing is a collection of short stories by B.J. Novak, actor, producer and writer most famous for his role in the US version of The Office. I have been trying to read more short stories lately – they are well-suited to bus journeys, and to reading around college work. Some of Novak’s stories are very short indeed – the shortest being only a couple of sentences, the longest are only about 12 pages.

Image from Amazon

Image from Amazon

One More Thing: stories and other stories

B.J. Novak

Little Brown, 2014

I enjoyed Novak’s sense of humour – some of the stories have discussion questions at the end, and there were plenty of smiles and chuckles throughout. I like the way characters cropped up again in different stories. Some of my favourites were ‘The Girl Who Gave Great Advice’, ‘Julie and the Warlord’, ‘All You Have To Do’, ‘The Man Who Invented The Calendar’ and ‘If You Love Something’. I don’t want to spoil any of the stories, but there is a mix of everyday situations, wacky ‘what ifs’, musings on life, or stories involving celebrities (for example ‘Johnny Depp, Fate and the Double-Decker Hollywood Tour Bus’). I wasn’t surprised that the stories were funny,  but the emotional side to some of them was unexpected. There were a couple of stories I didn’t like, but overall this was an enjoyable and witty read. Novak’s wry humour, ear for dialogue and crazy imagination makes for a funny collection of stories. I would definitely recommend this book, but to an adult audience!

I attended B.J. Novak’s One More Thing event in the Project Arts Centre in Dublin, and it was great to hear him read some of the stories aloud. The stories are very much designed to be performed, and he had everyone laughing. Fun fact from the q & a – his favourite episode of The Office is ‘The Injury’ (Season 2: Episode 12) in which MIchael Scott burns his foot on a grill when preparing breakfast in bed.

Myself and B.J. Novak at his event in the Project Arts Centre

With B.J. Novak at his event in the Project Arts Centre