Cover Image: Dear Reader

Dear Reader

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

I really loved this book; it’s such a comforting and relatable read. The author discusses events in her life alongside the books that got her through and it’s a book that everyone will find something in; it’s really a love letter to books. Like Cathy, I’ve always turned to books throughout my life and they rarely let me down – they are my constant. Cathy talks about the awful times in her life through to how she got to where she is now and the part books have played all the way through. This is such a gorgeous book and is one I will not only re-read myself in the future, but will continue to buy copies to give to my friends as gifts. I highly recommend this one!
Was this review helpful?
What a wonderful book. The memoir element is engaging in and of itself but the books mentioned make this an invaluable addition to any keen reader's To Go Onto the Read Pile list. A quick, satisfying read with the added bonus of plenty of interesting  and relevant book recommendations.
Was this review helpful?
A love letter to readers and books. I have had a love affair with books since a small.child and it was lovely to read a non sentimental.memoir about reading.  Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for the arc.
Was this review helpful?
The author was a bookworm as a child, a bookseller by chance, an insightful reviewer, a charismatic and entertaining presenter of book talks and events, and a memoirist of a family tragedy, and this is her account of her life through her passion for reading.

I'm not usually a fan of reading memoirs. They usually list books I've either never heard of, so feel terribly ignorant, or haven't enjoyed. It's meant that instead of feeling a tighter bond to the writer through their reading choices, I've felt more distant or excluded.

This book is different. It helped that I'd seen the author present at book events, and was impressed by her energetic, enthusiastic and positive personality. And I've read her moving memoir about the loss of her brother in a road accident. But she writes with great warmth and immediacy. There's no pretence or sense of showing off! And the books she's enjoyed have also been the titles that have meant a great deal to me. In fact, this felt like a book I could have written myself and, for any aspiring authors, perhaps it's a format to follow in embarking on their own life writing?
Was this review helpful?
Readers are a special type. We're drawn to spending hours between the covers of a book when the world tells us there are more important and more exciting things to do. But readers know that there is nothing more important or more exciting than the story which is waiting on the page to come alive in our imaginations. As such we devote countless hours to reading and we make room in the busyness of life for this remove from reality because we know that it is richly-rewarding time well spent. Cathy Rentzenbrink is a true reader. In “Dear Reader” she enumerates the many books which have held special meaning for her while chronicling the events of her life. More than this, she elegantly describes a life spent reading – how books are a central fixture in her life providing ballast, comfort and joy. Although reading is necessarily a solitary activity it also makes us all feel less alone. Rentzenbrink states “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 other since the dawn of time. My favourite books are specific yet universal. They illuminate my own life as well as showing me the lives of others and leave me changed, my worldview expanded.” This beautifully summarises the gift of reading and why for many of us it is a way of life. 

If reading is viewed as a leisure activity predominantly for the middle-upper class, Rentzenbrink proves this is wrong. She describes her youth being raised in a working class family with a father who only learned to read and write later in life. Books were always present from an early age: “My granny gave me my first book when I was a few months old.” Growing up she always got her hands on books through the library or school or buying books as a special treat. As a naturally gregarious and extroverted individual, Rentzenbrink worked in pubs when she became an adult. But her penchant for recommending books to people naturally led her to becoming a book seller. The jobs she held in a number of different bookstores from Harrods to Waterstones to Hatchards is described so compellingly from the mechanics of shop life to the varied experience of dealing with customers. 
Because her passion was so integral to her work, it naturally led to more opportunities in the wider publishing industry including programmes to encourage reading/writing in prisons and initiatives to support adults who struggle with literacy. In addition to being the fascinating life story of a bookish soul, what I loved about this account is the way Rentzenbrink comes into contact with a wide spectrum of readers from many different social groups. It shows the many ways books populate and influence people's lives. 

A quality common to all readers is an intense curiosity about what other readers are reading. The author describes a familiar habit of peering at the covers of what people are reading on public transport and when someone is reading a book she loves finding it difficult to resist striking up a conversation with them about it. So the experience of this book is also like scanning a great reader's bookshelf where I quickly identified books I'm familiar with (“Little Women”, “The Goldfinch”, “A Tale for the Time Being”, “A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing”, “What Belongs to You”); titles I've always meant to read (“The Diary of a Nobody”, “The Crimson Petal and the White”, “Jamaica Inn”); and novels that I've not heard of before but Rentzenbrink makes them sound so intriguing (“March Violets”, “Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore”, “Instructions for a Heatwave”). She groups lists of books under certain qualities or styles and summarises each with brief insights into how she personally connected with them. They're bracingly honest book recommendations like you'd get from a friend. When describing the novel “A Little Life” she accurately assesses “I won't lie to you, dear reader: there is little comfort or joy in this novel, but it is a work of genius that asks the hardest questions about the limitations of love.” It's wonderful the sheer variety and scale of Rentzenbrink's reading especially as she explains how she never distinguished between so-called “high” and “low-brow” literature when she was growing up. 

There were so many parts of this book that I found myself nodding at because even though the author has a very different life from my own I could deeply connect with her experiences as a reader. This includes issues such as the bewildering question which committed readers are often asked “How do you read so much?”, the dilemma of not wanting to say anything bad about a book and the feeling of not being good enough as a reader “it is too easy to get in a panic and decide that the fact I haven't read everything means I have no right to love books.” She also describes the dismaying feeling we can get when going through a period of our lives where we can't concentrate on reading as we normally do. This is commonly known as the dreaded “book slump”. There's a period following the birth of her son when Rentzenbrink can't read and she describes how “I hadn't felt right before, like I'd been robbed of my magic powers.” What the author also describes so movingly is the reason why we readers are so engrossed by this solitary activity and how it provides an endless source of inspiration for us throughout our lives: “The very way that fiction works – the process of conflict and resolution at the heart of every story – means that novels are full of people encountering challenging situations and, usually, surviving them. Books are a masterclass in how to carry on.” 

This book is deeply consoling for any keen reader. It made me feel understood. Opening this book is like passing under that sign in Foyles bookshop that proclaims “Welcome book lover, you are among friends.” Rentzenbrink is brilliant at articulating why the physical object of a book and its content is so important to us. “Every book holds a memory. When you hold a book in your hand, you access not only the contents of that book but fragments of the previous selves that you were when you read it.” I think that's partly why my personal library is so important to me. Not only do these books offer enthralling stories I can return to and learn more from but they are touchstones to the past and to the person I was when reading them. If you're a reader, you'll know what it means to stare at a shelf of books and feel like they are a part of you. “Dear Reader” poignantly conveys the deep pleasure to be found in the experience of reading and the communities that books build.
Was this review helpful?
A brilliant little book that perfectly sums up our love affair with books! It's an ode to books and reading, and the memories they evoke when we look back at various points in our life, and how they begin to mean so much more to us as we grow older!

I loved her approach to her books and how packing them up for a new move made her sit down and reminisce about her childhood and then working with books as an adult and becoming a writer. I really enjoyed the behind the scenes look at working in various bookshops - living the bookish dream!

I also really enjoyed seeing the recommendations that accompany each chapter and I've made a note of many of them as they sound wonderful reads! It was fun in recognising those moments that connect us all as readers -the comfort and the excitement that picking up a book can evoke and she captures it all perfectly!

She also sums up how books helped save her through good and bad times that she has faced, and how she got the biggest buzz from talking to customers and recommending books for them! A lovely bookish book!!
Was this review helpful?
Cathy Rentzenbrink is one of the loveliest people you can imagine. In recent years she’s become a real stalwart of the UK book scene, and her recommendations carry clout. Through her writing she comes across as just as genuine as she does in person. I’ve read all three of her books now (The Last Act of Love and A Manual for Heartache are the other two, both on a grief theme). I saw her interview Michel Faber about Undying for a Foyles event, and I’ve also read transcripts and write-ups from various events she’s hosted, so I feel like I know her. Unfortunately, this meant I was very familiar with her life story up through the turning point of her brother’s protracted death, so the first third of the book felt redundant. Also, the writing about her childhood reading doesn’t measure up to that in Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm.

The book does improve, thankfully, when Rentzenbrink moves on to her bookselling years and the unexpected opportunities that came her way through her literary connections. She started off at the Waterstones stand inside Harrods, and worked at various other London branches of the bookstore chain. Through book signings and other shop events, she got to know a lot of authors, but her greatest joy came from talking to strangers about books. Jobs at Quick Reads and The Bookseller followed; now she is a full-time author and freelance book person, involved with a lot of literary festivals and providing cover quotes for what seems like 95% of UK new releases.

I enjoyed the insider look at aspects of the book publishing and promotion industry, and Rentzenbrink is appealingly humble about her own gifts and the good luck and serendipitous timing that have given her chances to be involved in so many parts of the book world. It’s a shame, then, that her book recommendations are so obvious. The book lists interspersed with the narrative chapters go no deeper than a Book Riot article or back cover blurb. Most of the books she discusses are ones I’ve read or heard about, and she is guilty of plot summary – even when a book is so famous that no explanation is needed (e.g. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Anne of Green Gables). She even says, “Everyone knows the story of the unloved orphan boy who lives in a cupboard under the stairs…” yet goes on to give several paragraphs of basic information about the Harry Potter series.

So while I am wholly on board with Rentzenbrink’s guiding ideas of the power of books and how we define ourselves as readers (and, specifically, I share her fervent love for Moon Tiger), I found that the execution of this memoir fell short. (2.75 stars)
Was this review helpful?
What a gorgeous book. A book lover’s delight. A lovely combination of memoir and recommendation and would make a fabulous Christmas gift this year for anyone who loves to read.
Was this review helpful?
This book is so much more than a memoir of reading.
It tells of the therapeutic value of reading through life's difficulties.
Cathy has a life long love of books and they help her through her life from childhood to motherhood.  They also help with the loss of her brother.  They also help her with her identity and finding an occupation that she really wants to do.
The chapters are split into types of tales that books tell but each inspires books that Cathy has loved. 
This book is beautifully written and it will inspire you to read with lots of examples of books along the way. 
Thank you to the author, publisher and NetGalley in allowing me to read in return for a review.
Was this review helpful?
A kind of glorious ode to the truly edifying  gift that being able to read has been for Cathy and also  by extension myself.  Reading was a refuge for me a clumsy child with poor eyesight  and many of the treasures of childhood reading are shared with Cathy.  In fact her reading progression mirrors mine although I will admit to being far less prolific and sophisticated, but that’s okay because it is in the personal connections with books and then sharing our own infinitely different reactions and perspectives that makes reading a pleasure.

This is a book for readers, for reviewers and for booksellers  and writers, every single group will gain kinship with Cathy as her life has been connected with books and reading in every capacity  you can think of.

All reading is good. no book is bad or less valuable than another and this book gives us permission to suck the marrow out of the written word however we choose to do it, in huge gulps, in tiny sips or as a endeavour in self discovery or improvement.

I loved this book.
Was this review helpful?
What an absolute gem of a book this turned out to be!! I was blown away!! Rentzenbrink writes with such honesty and vulnerability, I was utterly compelled and now really want to read her first book, The Last Act of Love. 

This opens with Cathy moving back to Cornwall. She's unpacking and finds a copy of Daphne Du Maurier's Cornwall novels, which transports her back to when she first read it. The book then moves back to Cathy's childhood and how she first started reading. This is part memoir and part love letter to the joy of reading and the comforts of books in hard times. The events are in chronological order tracing her childhood, young adulthood, twenties and thirties, and then Cathy's progression into her writing her first book. Along the way she ponders on those books that she consumed, and shaped her life. 

Reading Dear Reader is like taking a long, warm bubble bath. Absolutely moving, with some brilliant book recommendations along the way. I laughed at the parts when she reminisces on working as a bookseller and all the less glamorous aspects people don't see. This was very relatable for me. This is a beautiful book, with a stunning cover! I'll be buying this for Christmas presents and recommend if you need a present for a bookworm to get this. You won't regret it!
Was this review helpful?
This is such a wonderful book all about the joys of reading and how it serves as a superb form of safe escapism.  The authors heartfelt writing about how books have formed and shaped her over the years, not only in the reading of them but the meeting with various authors, publishers and all the privileges of working in the book world, to finally penning one herself.  As a lover of books, i could really feel the love and affection she has for the words within those pages and how certain book stay with her, long after reading.  It also gave me a lot of reading material to try myself as i had not heard of some of these books and wished to immerse myself in what she imagined and felt within them :)
Was this review helpful?
Everyone who loves reading will recognise the sense of joy that emanates from the pages of Cathy Rentzenbrink’s memoir Dear Reader.

Joy is what she recalls from a childhood when every book transported her to an enchanted world and rainy afternoons could be transformed by the chance to read.

The joy of reading continued into adolescence with the relish for school stories, Narnia and Biggles replaced by devotion for Jean Plaidy, Agatha Christie and Jilly Cooper. And further still into adulthood when, as a temporary Christmas sales assistant at the Waterstones branch in Harrods, her conversations with customers were so animated, her boss thought she was gossiping with her friends.

Dear Reader charts Cathy Rentzenbrink’s life as a reader, from her earliest childhood memories through her years in bookselling, to the present day and the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition to be an author. Woven throughout are her reflections on the power of books; whether to change the course of a life, spark happiness or provide comfort and succour at times of distress.

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.

In Cathy’s case, books became her lifeline when her brother was fatally injured in a car accident. Her friends couldn’t help because at 17 years old, they knew little of suffering, but in the novels of Mary Welsey she found people who had encountered challenging situations and survived. Reading them helped her realise she was not alone.

"Often people can be a bit snooty at the idea of books as a form of escapism, but I believe this is one of the greatest powers of literature: to comfort, to console, to allow a tiny oasis of – not exactly pleasure, but perhaps we could think of it as respite, when we feel we might otherwise drown in a sea of pain."

All through Dear Reader, Cathy Rentzenbrink connects events in her life with books she was either reading at the time, or from which she could draw inspiration.

As an eight year old for example, she was punished in school by being made to stand on a chair in front of the whole class. She drew consolation by remembering how Amy in Little Women had been similarly shamed.  

Decades later, when launching the Quick Reads initiative she told the audience at the House of Commons that reading books had taught her how to behave in fine places.

"I joked that … thanks to The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, I’d never drunk the contents of a finger bowl, because Esther Greenwood had done exactly that the first time she encountered one."

Dear Reader didn’t wow me initially. In fact it put it aside after just a few pages thinking it was going to be essentially just list after list of book titles, separated only by a few reflective comments.

But I’m glad I decided to give it a second chance. It wasn’t simply her insights about the reading experience and our responses to literature, that won me over. It was Cathy’s personality.

She made the book feel like a chat with my best bookish mate. So many times I’d find myself smiling and nodding in recognition over her anecdotes.

I’ve never tried to read while walking as Cathy once did, ending up on the pavement with a cut knee (kudos to her that just wanted to carry on reading the Minette Walters!). But we’re alike in finding it hard to resist the urge to start conversations with strangers when I see them reading in waiting rooms and on public transport. And though I don’t have anything like Cathy’s depth of knowledge, just like her I often have to say something when I hear customers in a bookshop talking about one of my favourite books.

I loved the way Cathy Rentzenbrink talked about her father and his own experience with literature. He’d left school at a young age, unable to read or write. But when the law changed and he had to complete his own shift reports, he signed up for literacy evening classes. In later years their phone conversations would be peppered with discussions about the books he was reading.

There was no snobbery about her father’s choice of books, she recounts. It didn’t occur to him to judge books on their literary merit or the gender of the author.

That open attitude also comes through in Cathy’s own reading choices. Her recommendations – grouped in themes like Books about Writers; Books About Reading, Mothers and Children; Posh People Behaving Badly – range widely across genres and eras.

You’re as likely to find A Little Life by Hanya Yanaghira, Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes and Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively as Rivals by Jilly Cooper and the Harry Potter series in her lists of favourite books.

She’s also a big re-reader. I thought I was doing well having read Middlemarch at least six times but Cathy beats me hands down with Rebecca (read 10 or even 20 times) and Pride and Prejudice (50 times).

Would I recommend Dear Reader? Absolutely. It was one of my #20booksofsummer books and proved to be a gloriously exuberant, funny, but also moving account of a life-long love for books. It will chime with everyone who recognises the excitement of beginning a new novel or how it feels to be so deeply engrossed in a book, nothing – absolutely nothing – else matters.

Dear Reader : The Comfort And Joy Of Books by Cathy Rentzenbrink – End Notes
Cathy Rentzenbrink grew up in Yorkshire but has now returned to Cornwall where she was born. She worked in bookshops, for The Bookseller journal and on literacy campaigns via The Reading Agency and Quick Reads.

Her first book The Last Act of Love was a reflection on the life and death of her brother. Her second, A Manual for Heartache is a broader look at sorrow, anguish, despair, loss. Dear Reader, her third book, was published by Picador, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, in September 2020

Cathy blogs at and tweets @catrentzenbrink.

With thanks to Picador and NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy of this book.
Was this review helpful?
A book about books...which is also a memoir.  Must I say more?  

Ok, I will.  This book is a sheer delight, I loved every single page.  Cathy uses her love of books as a vehicle for telling her life story.  Or, Cathy uses her life story as a vehicle for sharing her love of books.  Whichever side of that scale you place the emphasis on, she does it beautifully.  Books have been companions, therapists and beacons lighting the way for Cathy through the best and worst times in her life, and provided her with a career path when she wasn't sure where her life should go.  Whilst sharing her story, she reminisces about the books that were important to her at certain times, and shares recommendation lists for those looking for similar bibliotherapy.

Cathy's love of books and reading is more than a hobby.  As a former Waterstone's bookseller myself, I adored her shopfloor stories and watching her career in that world climb.  But what really spoke to me in this book was Cathy's work with the prison population - as the daughter of an illiterate miner, helping her father learn to read set her on a path of supporting literacy in others.  Books are the way she is able to form connections with others, and to deepen her connection with herself.  They help her through a family tragedy, and years later she is able to process the emotions from that time by writing a book herself.  

From selling books, to publishing books, to writing about books, to writing her own...Cathy has the kind of career that would make me jealous to the point of hating her, if she weren't such a inspiring and funny person.  And her book recommendations are incredible, I think I added every book that I hadn't already read to my TBR!

This book is like a hug and a chat with your best bookish friend.  Perfection.
Was this review helpful?
A book for anyone who loves books and reading. Thoroughly enjoyable and very enjoyable.  It reminded me of my childhood when my books were the most important things in my life.
Was this review helpful?
A gorgeous read perfect for book fans. Full to the brim with book recommendations from a previous bookseller, with touching memoir throughout. I enjoyed every second.
Was this review helpful?
Dear Reader; The Comfort and Joy of Books, Cathy Rentzenbrink 

'Reading built me and always has the power to put me back together again.' 

In this book Cathy talks of how her love of reading has shaped her life. She takes us through her childhood, family tragedy, her working life and her journey to become an author herself. Her experiences and the books she loved at each stage in her life shaped the person she is today. 

I struggled to get into this book at the beginning but the more I read the more I wanted to read. It reminded me of books I loved as a child and want to go back and reread now as an adult and added many more to my TBR list.

Cathy has many insightful observations about our relationships with books which any reader can relate to. 'It is part of the great magic of books that they reveal more aspects of themselves as we grow into them.' She talks of books she's always loved, books she fell out of love with and books she's recommended to others. As a booklover, bookseller and author Cathy really understands the relationship readers have with books and I really enjoyed the sections where she spoke of her work in bookshops. 

This book is great for anyone who loves to read, its engaging and accessible. It discuses books and reading without judgment.
Was this review helpful?
Gorgeous writing about the magic of reading, the way it helps us to grow, teaches empathy, and builds community. Part-memoir, part bibliography of Rentzenbrink's favourite and most affecting books from over the years, this is the perfect book for book-lovers.
Was this review helpful?
I loved this book, a gentle and beautifully written memoir interspersed with great book recommendations. I found it fascinating to read more about what it’s really like to be a bookseller, a job I’ve always wanted to know more about. It was interesting to read about how the author’s career developed. Reading it has given me a sense of calm and topped up my “to read” book list. A quote from the section where the author is working in prisons has really stayed with me; “I wanted them to know the mind-expanding privilege of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, of being able to turn a page and be transported to another world.” I will look up other books Rentzenbrink has written and now I will recommend Dear Reader to my friends.
Was this review helpful?
A truly delightful memoir. I always feel so understood when I read books about reading, and this one was no exception. Books truly can change your life!
Was this review helpful?