Girl Reading

A Novel

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Seven portraits. Seven artists. Seven girls and women reading.

A young orphan poses nervously for a Renaissance maestro in medieval Siena. An artist's servant girl in seventeenth-century Amsterdam snatches a moment away from her work to lose herself in tales of knights and battles. An eighteenth century female painter completes a portrait of a deceased poetess for her lover. A Victorian medium poses with a book in one of the first photographic studios. A girl suffering her first heartbreak witnesses intellectual and sexual awakening during the Great War. A young woman reading in a bar catches the eye of a young man who takes her picture. And in the not-so-distant future a woman navigates the rapidly developing cyber-reality that has radically altered the way people experience art and the way they live.

Each chapter of Katie Ward’s kaleidoscopic novel takes us into a perfectly imagined tale of how each portrait came to be, and as the connections accumulate, the narrative leads us into the present and beyond. In gorgeous prose Ward explores our points of connection, our relationship to art, the history of women, and the importance of reading. This dazzlingly inventive novel that surprises and satisfies announces the career of a brilliant new writer.
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  • Scribner | 
  • 352 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451655902 | 
  • February 2012
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Read an Excerpt

Girl Reading
Simone Martini

Annunciation, 1333

She arrives glowing from the effort of running, strands of red hair coming loose from her kerchief (she tucks them in), marks on her neck like bruises on fruit. A few minutes late but not enough for anyone to mention it. Is almost surprised to find herself in the wards once more amid illness and suffering (on an... see more

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Girl Reading includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Katie Ward. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


In this delicately crafted and richly imagined novel, Katie Ward conjures up the backdrop, characters, and stories captured in seven portraits of women reading throughout the centuries. Told in seven chapters, Girl Reading breathes life into static art and creates entire worlds for the stories’ subject—from a young orphan posing for a religious painting in 1333 to a weary, career-minded woman being photographed in a bar in 2008. In Girl Reading, Katie Ward takes readers behind the canvas and into the yearning, painful, secretive, and hopeful lives of women who read, and the artists who capture them in the act.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Have you read any other books that tell stories inspired by works of art? How do each of the writers use visual art as a springboard for their fiction?

2. Girl Reading has a unique structure—the book is comprised of seven chapters, each inspired by the creation of a different piece of art in a different century. W see more



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