Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books is Cathy Rentzenbrink’s love letter to the books in her life, and how they’ve influenced and shaped her, while also providing a source of comfort and connection with others.
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.
If you’re anything like me and love books about books or always want to know what other people are reading, whether they’re on public transport, in a coffee shop, sitting in the park or talking books on social networks, then trust me, you’ll enjoy Cathy Rentzenbrink’s Dear Reader.
As Cathy Rentzenbrink unpacks in the wake of a house move, her back hurts. Remembering advice she was once given, she lies down on the floor with her head resting on an omnibus edition of Daphne du Maurier’s four Cornish books. Surrounded by the book collection she’s attempting to shelve, she begins to look back over her life as a reader from her first cloth book to those formative years spent discovering Narnia right up to her current desire to re-read Rebecca as a balm to ease the stress of moving.
What follows is a joyous, almost breathless voyage of discovery as Cathy Rentzenbrink charts a course through the books she’s read from her earliest memory to the present day. She relates life events alongside the books which accompanied her through them, showing the impact books have had on Cathy and her life choices, how she’s been shaped by her reading, and how she’s found comfort and solace in the more difficult times.
I absolutely loved how she almost inhales the books she reads, high on the delirious drug that is reading. It seems as if books really are feeding her soul and her enthusiasm and hunger for them made me smile, nod and say, “Oh, yes! I do that/feel that way, too,” so often, I ended up talking to the book as if Cathy were sitting there in the same room.
Dear Reader feels like the best impromptu conversation, you know the kind – the one with a bookish friend who gets you and understands completely what it feels like to lose yourself in the world of a book. So much so that the two of you fall down the rabbit hole and end up talking books for hours, when you’d only intended to have a quick catch-up. Reading this book, I felt much like I imagine some of Cathy Rentzenbrink’s customers did when she was working for Waterstones or Hatchards, although happily I had the benefit of not having to cut things short and rush back to the office.
One thing that surprised me was how often Cathy Rentzenbrink re-reads books. I don’t do this anywhere near as much as I would like, probably because I am too easily distracted by all the shiny new books being published each week but she seems to gain so much from the experience that I’m going to try and do more of it in future. There are other books besides the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome and Jane Austen’s books, and in particular Persuasion, that I’d like to re-visit.
This resolution might well be scuppered by another feature of Dear Reader because Cathy Rentzenbrink is also kind enough to devote chapters to book-themed recommendations, such as Pub Books, Books about Bookshops and Booksellers, Bad Love, Books About Reading and Books about Writers. You’ll make a list. I did. In fact, I made two. One for the books I have on my shelves from the ones she mentions, and the other a wishlist. I’m itching to make my first purchase but I’m going to try and be good and read something I already own first. Wish me luck!
Cathy Rentzenbrink describes herself as an amiable bookworm. She’s also an incredibly generous and enthusiastic one in sharing her life with books and her love of books with us, which is why I have no hesitation in recommending Dear Reader to you.
Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink is published by Picador, an imprint of Pan Macmillan. It is available as an audiobook, ebook and in hardback. You can find it at Amazon UK or buy it from Hive, where every purchase you make helps support your local independent bookshop.
My thanks to Camilla Elworthy for sending me a review copy.