I like spreading ideas about what to read. That’s the main thing this blog is about. And I always enjoy books about books, and these two today are about writers enjoying books. Books about reading are always popular with me. So much rich treasure here. So much to read that has already been published that I don’t need to scour those lists of forthcoming books in 2023 in the newspapers. I’ll be happy for a while with what I found in these two volumes, and the choices made by my reading group.
Dear Reader: the comfort and Joy of Books
Dear Reader is more than a list of significant books that the writer has read. This is a memoir with the theme of the importance of books threaded throughout. More than significant books, she credits reading with helping her through some tricky patches in her life. Ultimately books gave her a living, first in bookshops and then in making reading accessible to adults and finally by writing books herself.
Cathy Rentzenbrink comes from a family that was not well-off. Her father earned a living as a miner in several locations and later as a publican. He was not able to read until late in life. But the family had love and she also had reading.
Her career in the book trade, began in Waterstones in Harrods and moved on to senior positions in some of the biggest bookstores in London. She ran Brief Books for adult learner-readers, and found herself working in prisons, helping inmates with learning to read and to write.
As she recounts her past, she tells us what she had been reading, or re-reading. And every now and again she includes lists on a theme: books about bookshops and booksellers; series books; mothers and children; memoirs.
My only complaint about this book is that there is no contents page, index or list of books referred to. It makes returning to find titles again very difficult. But there are books I have noted that I will read or reread on Cathy Rentzenbrink’s recommendation.
Dear Reader: the comfort and Joy of Books by Cathy Rentzenbrink, published in 2020 by Picador 232pp
What Writers Read: 35 writers on their favourite books
Here are 35 writers providing ‘a snapshot into the writer as a person, told through the book that they were reading at that time’ (introduction). I note that this is not the same thing as a ‘favourite’, but we can let that pass. These contributions are not book reports, the editor tells us. Many of the contributors are writers becausethey are readers. In this volume there are 70 books for the price of one. That’s good value.
I can across many books I have read, and recommendations by writers whose books I have read, and a few books that intrigued me and I want to experience again. One such was Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, chosen by Taiye Selassi. Moon Tiger is one of the most interesting and successful books in the Older Women in Fictionseries on this blog.
A children’s book that I plan to revisit, having read Tessa Hadley’s comments on it, is Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce. And then there is the delightful The Summer Book by Tove Jansson chosen by Ali Smith and also in the Older Women in fiction series. Heartburn by Nora Ephron is praised in both books featured in this post. I’ve never read it, but now I plan to.
One could do better than read through the 34 highlighted books and those of the writers who picked them. I’ve got my little list
What Writers Read: 35 writers on their favourite books edited by Pandora Sykes. Published by Bloomsbury in 2022. 180pp
Bookworm by Lucy Mangan (Bookword blog July 2018)
The Book of Old Ladies by Ruth O Saxton (January 2021)
Imagine a Society of Readers (February 2019)
84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (August 2018)
On being a Good Reader (March 2018)