Author: Katie Ward
Published by: Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster
Copyright Date: 2011
The Gist: Seven stories about seven pieces of art-Ward explains it best in her last, rather meta, story: The photo came to life as it were; it started to reveal its story-a story, at any rate. The history of the picture was shown to me as if it had always been there, waiting to be discovered. It appeared in fragments and glimpses, at first. There were echoes of conversations between these people, hints as to their relationships and tribulations. It was like I was alone in a theater, and the ghosts were putting on a play just for me.
My Thoughts: I used to be good about going to the museum. I confess, of late, that I haven’t gone nearly as much. But I used to love it. I would fixate on a painting here, a sculpture there and imagine the story behind it, because as people who like to read know, there’s a story behind everything. In Girl Reading, Katie Ward writes seven stories about seven different paintings, vividly creating small time capsules, moments frozen forever on canvas. Her stories span from 1333 to 2060 and all feature one central commonality: a girl caught reading. They are remarkably feminist stories, even the 1333 Annunciation piece by artist Simone Martini. More importantly, the themes are fully relatable-every woman can identify. I Google searched the paintings on-line after finishing the book, and was pleased to find that Ward had told the stories so well, the paintings were completely recognizable.
Ward makes a specific stylistic choice in her story-telling, which I confess, put me off at first. Without giving too much away, she forces you to pay close attention to each moment, to truly study the canvas, not just to view it casually and depart, none the richer or wiser for having spent a moment in the company of a piece of art. In essence, she forces the reader to slow down. I should probably be ashamed that I needed the reminder. Her final story ties all the thematic elements of all the short stories together and reminds the reader why art is important; why it is relevant to each of us, individually and as a society; and she does so without resorting to precious techniques or preaching.
Bottom Line: Completely engaging and has me contemplating my next trip to the museum.