Proud bibliophile and arbiter of good taste, Karen Walker is never short of a reading recommendation. STYLE asks the designer whatâs currently keeping her up at night.
The last half hour of each day for me is always spent with a book; usually novels â classic or contemporary; sometimes essays; very occasionally biography. Earlier on in this pandemic business I found it very hard to concentrate on reading and had many false starts. Eventually I discovered the simple answer: short stories. I revisited some old favourites, picked up ones that had been on the reading pile for years and dove into a couple of new discoveries. My top five short-storytellers are:
One of our greatest artists and one of my favourite writers of all time. Iâm a sucker for modernism and she is a master of this. I love In A German Pension but if youâre only going to read one or two of hers, the obvious choices are The Garden Party and, especially, The Dollâs House, which is one of the saddest pieces of writing youâll ever meet. Her birthplace in Wellington is an astonishing jewel and a must-visit.
Set mostly in the New York of the â50s and â60s, Paleyâs stories bump about between moving, hilarious, tragic; the personal, political and feminist.
Mostly they happen at kitchen sinks and kitchen tables and on apartment stoops. Her gift for painting characters is incredible; just one example of many I love, when describing a dead father: âHe had an unhappy smell. His teeth fell out, his hair disappeared, he got smaller, shrivelled up little by little, till goodbye and good luck he was gone and only came to Mamaâs mind when she went to the mailbox under the stairs to get the electric bill.â Her dialogue is equally brilliant.
I love Pushkinâs life-story, which I dove into after visiting a former home of his in Odessa, Ukraine. He was exiled there by Tzar Alexander I in 1823 for general disruption and bad behaviour. His life was one of naughtiness and brilliance, trouble-making and partying and not caring about consequences. I love him for that, and his sheer genius. Heâs not best-known for his short stories but they do carry you away. The Queen of Spades, one of his most famous, is a cautionary tale that takes you on a fast and furious journey of silliness, hope and despair.
I love all that Iâve read of Italo Calvino, but The Baron in the Trees is, for me, his most charming and poetic. A story about independence and stubbornness, its central character is a boy who, after arguing with his father, climbs a tree and spends the rest of his life there. A little longer than most, this particular piece is possibly more of a novel than a short story, but dig into any of Calvinoâs oeuvre and I promise you, youâll be delighted.
The cover of Some Trick caught my eye first, followed by its comparison to Gogol â very high praise indeed. Iâve only read half of the stories so far but have loved them all. Unpredictable and funny and brilliant.