Building Stories carries, in its box of 14 books, pamphlets and Möbius comic strips, a certain buffer against criticism. Forster said, “One always tends to overpraise a long book, because one has got through it,” and I’m fearful of a related effect here. Ware’s work is so impressive – the composition, the structure, the detail, the art – that it’s tempting to switch off critical faculties; or, worse, fail to notice that they’ve been switched off. (Hang on though, that doesn’t sound so bad.) At the same time, why should a publication as different as this be judged in the same terms as those anodyne, anaemic books without pictures?

But the format also troubled me a little. A collection of stories to be read in any order always risks seeming like an abdication of responsibility by the writer, though I admit that my response (“Just tell me what order to read it in!”) might be mostly to do with my own completist and obsessive impulses….Yet the conceit worked for me. There seemed to be a direction built in to my random reading order: from the gold-spined hardcover which introduces the main characters, through cycles in the life of the main heroine, to a literally tear-jerking conclusion – spliced with episodes from the life of Branford, the Best Bee in the World.

John Self reviews Chris Ware’s new collection, Building Stories.

Ware will be at LIVE on December 11 with Zadie Smith to discuss Building Stories alongside NW. Learn more and get tickets here…