Title: Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books (review copy)
Author: Cathy Rentzenbrink
Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir
Blurb from Goodreads
‘Reading has saved my life, again and again, and has held my hand through every difficult time’
For as long as she can remember, Cathy Rentzenbrink has lost and found herself in stories. Growing up she was rarely seen without her nose in a book and read in secret long after lights out. When tragedy struck, books kept her afloat. Eventually they lit the way to a new path, first as a bookseller and then as a writer. No matter what the future holds, reading will always help.
Dear Reader is a moving, funny and joyous exploration of how books can change the course of your life, packed with recommendations from one reader to another.
‘Dear Reader’ is the type of book that a bookworm like myself just laps up. Because it is all about the love of story and the written word.
In ‘Dear Reader’ the author Cathy Rentzenbrink explores her love for books and reading throughout her life. She starts with her memories of The Chronicles of Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, Enid Blyton and many other children’s books that she inhaled. She writes about how books felt more than fiction to her. How the stories, the characters called out to be read and simply demanded attention above all else.
She also touches on sadder parts of her life. Her brother Matty was injured in an accident and never woke up again, dying some 8 years later, and Rentzenbrink illustrates how books were a solace through those dark and painful times. How she could imagine a life for herself because of books. How they led her to certain life choices that impacted her personal life and ultimate happiness.
One of the most interesting aspects of this novel is that Rentzenbrink was a bookseller in a number of UK bookshops affiliated to a particular chain and as a reader this held my undivided attention. It was so joyous to get to see behind the scenes of bookselling, to hear Rentzenbrink’s take on customers, authors, how bookshops are stocked and run… I particularly enjoyed when she discussed those little bookseller recommendation cards you see in bookshops; maybe because I’ve always wanted to go into a bookshop and write those cards myself!
Most of the book titles that Rentzenbrink refers to I feel are well known which means as a reader you are able to compare your personal reading preferences to hers. However, there are a number of books that Rentzenbrink listed that I had not heard of that have made their way onto my TBR list (to be read) as they sound delightfully curious. However, on the whole I feel my bookish tastes are radically different to Rentzenbrink. She’s a fan of Narnia, Harry Potter, Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger, crime/mystery novels, Adrian Mole, Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, Margaret Atwood… whereas I feel ambivalent about all those titles/authors! But that’s the fun of the book. Because Rentzenbrink writes purely about a passion for reading. There’s no judgment about what are allegedly ‘good books’ and what are allegedly bad. Rentzenbrink just wants us to be as passionate about reading and that it’s okay to not like some books but absolutely adore others.
This was a very quick read; I read it in the course of one evening but it was a very enjoyable experience. I feel this is the type of book that would make a great gift for someone that you know loves reading.
I know it’s not the done thing to share passages from ARC copies so please be advised that this passage I’m going to quote about reading is subject to change, but it’s so moving and I think sums up the the vibe of this book so well that I simply have no choice but to share it:
”Reading is respite care for the mind…
Above all, I find it consoling to be reminded that I am not alone, that everything I feel has been felt before, that everything I struggle with has been perplexing others since the dawn of time.
My favourite books are universal.
They illuminate my own life as well as showing me the lives of others and leave me changed, my worldview expanded.
When I turn the last page I rejoin the real world knowing I am only a tiny speck in it, one small piece in a gigantic jigsaw. My concerns may feel modern and specific to me, but really they are as old as time itself.
How do I love people when I know that the pain of their death might kill me?
How do I live well in an unfair world?
How do I care about my fellow humans but not end up choked by my own empathy?
How do I balance my desire for excitement with my need for solitude?
Reading is often seen as an introvert activity but I think it is essential for extroverts like me. It is a way of being alone but never lonely.
We are hardwired to seek out connection with other humans and to look for love, which makes us vulnerable to pain. The only way not to suffer is not to love, and that would be suffering in itself.”
Recommended to lovers of books of all genres.
*An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
Publishing 17th September 2020, Picador/Pan MacMillan