Reader reviews for Girl Reading: A Novel

How to describe this lovely book? There’s a certain amount of dogmatic debate in the Amazon reviews about whether it’s a “novel” at all, the reason being it’s structured as seven individual stories which echo each other, the first six of which resonate through the seventh, not in a tying-up-loose-ends sort of way, more as a thematic denouement which is satisfying and enthralling. Each story is built around a picture of a woman reading a book, beginning in 14th century Siena and ending, with the seventh tale, in a near-future world where people live both in the real world and in the “mesh”, which is Katie’s own take on cyberspace.That’s essentially the structure, but that doesn’t tell you anything about the book. Those people arguing about whether it’s a novel or not are entitled to their debate, but it seems sterile and pointless. This is a book with a purpose and an engine; you don’t dip in and out of it like you would with a collection of short stories. Katie writes with frankly sickening (to another writer) skill – she has that rare ability to within a line or two put personalities into your head where they stand up and start walking about under their own power. Every character in the book is alive, even those who appear in passing, and I can picture each and every one of the core female characters from each story as if they were sitting in among the photos on my living room shelves.As for what it’s about - well, I wouldn’t presume. All I’ll say is it seemed to strike a real chord with me after something I wrote a few weeks ago about our modern experience of culture, how it is changing and (in some respects) thinning out as technology takes more and more of a central role. The central device of the book – that of the reader watching a picture being created of a woman who is reading – is an ingenious device for examining our Ways of Seeing, to quote John Berger. As I read the book, I found myself hoping the images being used for the stories would be displayed at the end, but they’re not; instead, there’s an Author’s Note, with only the names of pictures and artists and their dates and locations available to us to investigate further. Which, the more I think about it, is correct. If the book has a message, for me it is to go and experience these pictures in as real a way as you can manage, because that is how you dig out your own humanity. As Katie says on her own website:"I truly understand why many people will feel moved to lookup these pictures online, but, I promise you, the art in real life is much better."A luminous, beautiful, fascinating book. Buy it and read it.
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I had high hopes for this book. I love books about books and reading, so this seemed to really fit the bill. It basically consists of seven individual stories, from seven different times (including the future) and all the stories have a link to pictures of women reading. That appears to be the only link between the women in each story - if there was another link then it was too subtle for me.I particularly liked the stories set in the 1600s and the 1800s. I'm afraid the other stories did little for me. I don't usually mind books without speech marks but I do like to be able to differentiate between the story and dialogue, and much of this book didn't allow me to do that.I think the writing is accomplished but it was maybe trying to be a bit too clever for my liking. Nevertheless, it's a promising debut for Katie Ward.
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This was great - reminded me a bit of Tracey Chevalier or Susan Vreeland in taking a painting or idea of one from history and presenting the back story of it (even though here, they are imagined paintings), but the end was very different, a bit David Mitchell-y both in idea and structure. Which isn't to say the book is precisely like any of those things. Each story is based around a girl or woman reading a book - either the subject of a painting or photograph, etc - but none of the stories is only or necessarily mainly about those things either. The stories span a wide range of time periods, from medieval times to the near future and the women (and other characters) featured are diverse and varied, though consistently well-drawn. Only two criticisms to keep it from being a five-star for me - I felt the unifying last chapter lacked just a little something - something both difficult to put my finger on and difficult to discuss without spoilers! And, I felt that some of the subtle implications about the stories were a little too subtle and left me wondering too much just what I was supposed to conclude. I did feel, however, that unlike some clever novels, it didn't come across as trying too hard to be clever, which is frankly, a bit of a relief, as so many clever novels do...
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Girl Reading by Katie WardThe Blurb on the back tells us: An Orphan poses nervously for a Renaissance maestro in Medieval Siena, and an artist servant girl in 17th century Amsterdam snatches a moment away from her work to lose herself in tales of knights and battles. In a Victorian photography studio, a woman holds a book that she barely acknowledges while she waits for the exposure and in Shoreditch bar in 2008 a woman reading catches the eye of a young man who takes her picture. What is perhaps not apparent is that this book is a collection of short stories; all have a woman at the centre, and man somewhere and emotion everywhere. Viv Groskop, The Times states this book “has a real beating heart”, and I would agree with that statement. The book as a piece of literature is brilliant. I could really have got an essay out of this for so many courses in the past and I am confident some course lecturer will pick this as content for one of their books. It’s brilliantly written and the change in voices could be compared to David Mitchell (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet) without a doubt. Any women’s reading group that chose this book would not be disappointed and they would run over time in their discussions. It is somewhat more intellectual than your average bestseller and therefore if you are after something a bit more stimulating to read this would make an excellent choice, curled up in the beanbag, in front of the fire whilst it is pouring down with rain. The Commuting Bookworm 08/08/12
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Must give 5 Rates for this book, must read.
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Awesome
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