Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink
The subtitle of this book is “The Comfort and Joy of Books”, and it really fits this memoir of a life in books. “Once upon a time there was a little girl who loved books. She still does. She always will.” It is an honestly written, beautifully flowing story of growing up with books as a child, permanently distracted by books. Adult life took many unforeseen twists and turns, some happier than others, some tragic and some big adventures. Throughout she read, re read and enjoyed her books. When they became her career as well, Cathy found her true element: people and books. This is an account of a true evangelist for reading, especially those for whom it has been a hard worn skill, and for those who have discovered that even in the toughest of times it is a comfort, a distraction and so much more. This is a book that inspires readers to read more, and to read with enjoyment. I found it a fascinating and well written book, with enough interesting personal detail to make it a realistic and sometimes moving read.
What I particularly enjoyed about this book were the sections which gave relevant book titles, and a paragraph as to why it is a good read. It ranges from “The Enduring Consolations of Crime” listing seven books of crime fiction, interestingly all by women, to “Books about Writers”. This is the element that can make reading this book expensive or at the very least time consuming, as Cathy “sells” each book so persuasively that it compels discovery or rediscovery of books. It certainly had me reaching for a notebook to make out yet another book list.
The book works chronologically in terms of Cathy’s life. It recounts how she was a bookish child, seeing the example of her mother who undertook study with the Open University, and her father who struggled with the basics of writing. As with many whose reading age was far in advance of their chronological age, as a child Cathy struggled with teachers who refused to accept that reading schemes were simply too slow for children who were tackling bigger and longer books from choice. As her father’s employment necessitated frequent moves around the country, she was teased about her accent and more, so took refuge in books. Her first selection of books is thus “Children’s Books I Love to Reread”, in addition to her appreciation of the great C. S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. A tragic accident means that she refocused on books that delivered an alternative perspective on life, such as those set in wartime, by Mary Wesley, whose young characters were seen as “fellow members of my support group”.
The further adventures of Cathy included a time in America, then a return to Britain working in the book department of Harrods. Awakened to the joys and challenges of selling books, she progressed to Waterstones, management, and then to working with a range of books designed to help adult learners.
This is a book which inspires and effectively conveys the life long love of books as a comfort and joy in all ways. Cathy has succeeded in recounting her life story as an inspiration to read and enjoy books of every kind, and this book is a wonderful read and sure to become a favourite.