I just love reading books about how much people love reading books. So you can imagine how much I enjoyed Dear Reader – an ode to the joy and comfort of reading by author and book-lover Cathy Rentzenbrink. This is her memoir about how books have shaped her life, with a lot of great reading recommendations scattered throughout too.
Opening sentence: I’m lying on the floor of my new house in Cornwall surrounded by boxes.
From bookseller to author
Cathy Rentzenbrink’s love of reading started from an early age, her story is made even more interesting as her dad struggled with literacy when she was a child, so it was something he learnt after her. She was there to see him discover the joy of reading.
When the bite of real life is too brutal, I retreat into made-up worlds and tread well-worn paths.
Her career trajectory fascinated me too. She began as a Waterstone’s bookseller (in the Harrod’s concession) working her way up the Waterstone’s chain to managing her own stores (I loved finding our more about the inner workings of the stores). Then her bookish career continued as she moved to The Bookseller and Quick Reads, a charity that encourages adults to read and where she helps prisoners on their reading journey. Finally, she became an author herself.
Like talking to a bookish friend
I really enjoyed Cathy’s inclusive, friendly writing style and found myself relating to lots of her experiences: how Narnia sparked her imagination at a young age, how Enid Blyton made her wish she went to boarding school, how long and dull (whisper it) Dickens is, how she goes to Agatha Christie for a comfort read and she loved The Railway Children, which now holds a special place in my heart as the author Edith Nesbitt lived just down the road from where I live now.
Even the pubs she went to in central London were the ones I enjoyed a drink in too when I worked around there and her battle with Excel and a VLOOKUP – can totally relate.
I also loved how she speaks about her love for Jilly Cooper. Often reading is laced with snobbery and Cathy has such a refreshing take on it, reminding us to ALWAYS read what we want, never mind what other people think:
I don’t think I realised that some books were supposed to be better than others, and I had no concept of highbrow versus lowbrow.
Her recommendations are very helpfully divided up into interesting sections such as ‘books about pubs’, ‘books about reading’, ‘books about writers’. Weirdly, just this week I created a similar section on my blog: Books by Mood, where I do this very thing and have created little edits of books based around things they have in common.
Due to all the amazing book recs in Dear Reader, I have now complied a massive list of books to add to my TBR from the must-read way Cathy spoke about them, including:
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
- Metroland by Julian Barnes
- Any Human Heart by William Boyd
- Possession by A.S. Byatt
- The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
- Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty
- The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
- The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
- A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
- Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller
- Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
- Embers by Sandor Marai
- The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
- Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
- Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Books save lives
Reading has saved my life, again and again, and has held my hand through every difficult time.
You can feel Cathy’s enthusiasm and true love of books flying from these pages. I finished Dear Reader feeling like I’d had a lovely chat with a friend – a wise friend who loves books as much as me – and that I just want to dive straight into one of the amazing novels she recommended. Truly a delight to read!
Also, if you like this type of book, another great one I’ve read that’s dedicated to the joy of reading is Bookworm by Lucy Mangan, her memoir of childhood books she loved.