Published by Picador
Publication date – 17 September 2020
Source – review copy
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.
Cathy Rentzenbrink takes the reader through her life in books. Dear Reader explores how solace and escape can be found and a career forged through the love of books and in it Cathy shares details of what those special books in her life mean to her.
I love books about books, I can’t get enough of them. They have some unnameable quantity about them, as though they have been imbibed by magic of the books that have gone before them, that are discussed with love, or quiet criticism.
There is something infinitely intimate in a book about people’s reading habits and how books have shaped them. Reading is a subjective, solitary pastime, it’s not a contact group sport. There aren’t many TV programmes dedicated to it, no book charts shown on TV like football league tables. Yet if you take a peek into most households there is at least one bookworm. Book groups are easy to be found, or founded. Online readalongs and readathons are there at the click of a button and a friendly tweet or two. Films of book adaptations can make people rich and famous. And each book leaves its author with the potential to change lives, from relieving stress for a few hours to forging a career that feeds their family.
That Cathy Rentzenbrink loves books is not in doubt. The book opens with her surrounded by her own collection, one of the first things to be unpacked in a new home. As the pages turn the reader sees more about Cathy’s life, from a child moving to new towns when her father gets new employment to getting her job in Harrods book department. This is real life, with real people and there are some touching moments as Cathy recollects her childhood and the tragic accident in which her brother was injured and from which he never recovered. One of the most touching moments for me is when she discusses meeting her husband. The simplicity and matter of factness in how it is described made it all the more romantic for me. Real life may not be the hearts and flowers of a romantic work of fiction but those books help us spot romantic moments in more understated ways.
Ever the book seller, after the end of each chapter the author has included a smaller chapter with books that fit a theme. These are helpful markers to direct the reader down other paths at a later date.
I tore through this book. It makes the reader feel like they are sitting down for a chat with the author, and that a lively, fun filled discussion about books will take place.
Dear Reader is a love letter to the written word. It puts it’s finger on that undefinable feeling that readers everywhere will recognise, one that encompasses the comfort, the challenge, the joy that getting lost in a good book can bring.
A joy to read and a book I’ll return to, even if it’s just for suggestions of what to read next.
About the author
Cathy Rentzenbrink was born in Cornwall, grew up in Yorkshire and now lives in London, where she works as a writer and journalist. She is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling memoir The Last Act of Love, which was shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize.