Books about Reading and Writers

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

Related posts

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)


Filed under Books, Older women in fiction, Reading, Writing

7 Responses to Books about Reading and Writers

  1. Carole Jones

    I do so agree that ‘books about books’ are a wonderful means of broadening our reading horizons and introducing us to unknown authors and their multiply varied oeuvres. One of my best (current) Xmas presents is a large book token from my other-half … which I am about to ‘blow’… on the works of Olga Tokarczuk having come across her work in another blog about books.
    Thanks for all your varied tips and suggestions and Happy New Year.

    • Caroline

      Thank you for your comments, Carole.
      You will also find two of Olga Tokarczuk’s books reviewed here on Bookword: Drive Your Plow over the Dead Bones and Flights. Both are remarkable novels, and so very different. I am slowly reading The Book of Jacob at the moment. But it is long.
      The two books, reviewed on this post, have already influenced my reading and my book-buying. You’ll have to wait and see how!

      • Carole Jones

        Ahhh! I will be very keen to know what you think. I ordered Drive Your Plough and The Book of Jacob, this very afternoon (wonderful Harbour bookshop in Kingsbridge) but I still need to buy more: very large book token – Xmas present!

  2. One different version I quite like of the “books about books” theme is to see what books characters read in the novels they feature in. I read a lot of fiction from Central and Eastern Europe, including fiction from the early 20th century, and over time I’ve noticed some authors or books that come up quite a bit in those earlier novels and are often read by the child characters (boys, often). It just adds quite a nice layer to my own reading of those books.

    • Caroline

      You are so right! I love books where the characters read other books: Elizabeth Taylor does that a lot. I had to read the Spoils of Point by Henry James as it was referred to in In A Summer Season.

  3. Susan Kavanagh

    I love this kind of a book and recently picked up A Reader’s Delight by Noel Perrin. When I saw that he had included three books that I really liked, I had to buy it.

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