Cathy Retzenbrink’s book recommendations

From childhood favourites just begging to be reread to the literary classics that should be on every bookshelf, here we share just a few of Cathy Retzenbrink’s book recommendations from Dear Reader

09/11/2020
2 minutes to read

Author Cathy Retzenbrink is powerfully aware of the ability of books to transform our lives, having lost and found herself in stories all her life. She was forever with her nose in a book as a child, and as an adult sought comfort in reading in the wake of tragedy. Here we share just a few of the book recommendations from Dear Reader, a moving, funny and joyous exploration of how books can change the course of your life.

Bridget Jones's Diary

by Helen Fielding

Book cover for 9781509813889

Bridget is one of the greatest comic creations of all time, and this hilarious twist on Pride and Prejudice also affectionately illuminates the internal thought processes that can sit behind our desire to improve ourselves. I often reread it in those odd days between Christmas and New Year, and it never fails to cheer me up.

The Diary of a Nobody

by George Grossmith

Book cover for 9781509881390

Charles Pooter is a clerk who lives with his wife Carrie in a house in Holloway called The Laurels. He worries about his son, Lupin, who engages himself to the vulgar Daisy Mutlar, joins a local amateur dramatics society and loses his job. Pooter has little self-awareness, and much of the humour comes from his high opinion of himself and his inability to read the world around him. The diary started off as a serial in Punch magazine in 1888, and still feels every bit as perceptive about the vanity and folly of human beings today.

Never Mind

by Edward St Aubyn

Book cover for 9781447202936

We first meet Patrick Melrose when he is a boy living with his rich American mother and cruel aristocratic father in the South of France. There are two more novels in the original trilogy, and then St Aubyn went on to write Mother’s Milk and At Last, to bring the story to a triumphant close. Terrible things happen in these novels but the writing is so precise and elegant that somehow the reading experience soothes as well as disturbs. And they are – especially At Last – extremely funny.


What Belongs to You

by Garth Greenwell

Book cover for 9781447280521

When an American teacher meets a young man called Mitko in the toilets of the National Palace of Culture in Sofia, he becomes obsessed with his desire for him. A slender and achingly beautiful novel full of the gloriously messy pain of unrequited and inappropriate love. A little like Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, it captures the terrible truth that knowing the object of our love is unworthy does not help us to stop pining for their attention.

A Little Life

by Hanya Yanagihara

Book cover for 9781447294832

Jude, JB, Willem and Malcolm are making their way in New York City. What starts off feeling like a fairly traditional post-college novel takes a darker turn as we gradually discover the secrets in Jude’s past that prevent him from fully living in the present. 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.

The End We Start From

by Megan Hunter

Book cover for 9781509843985

In a future so near it feels like now, our narrator gives birth to her son in a London under threat of advancing flood waters. Because she lives in the ‘Gulp Zone’ she must head off in search of shelter and safety, but the familiar has become dangerous as social order breaks down. I loved the way the journey into the unfamiliar territory of motherhood is contrasted with the need to move out of danger. And it is fascinating to reimagine London as a place to flee from, its population turned into refugees.

The Mother

by Yvvette Edwards

Book cover for 9781447294542

Marcia’s son Ryan was stabbed to death for no apparent reason, and now she goes to court every day to see if the young man accused of his murder will be convicted. Ryan had never been in trouble so why was he carrying a knife? There are plenty of twists and turns as this courtroom drama unfolds, and through it all the question dominates of what it must be like to lose a son to a violent and unjust death.

The Wind in the Willows

by Kenneth Grahame

Book cover for 9781509827930

The story of Toad, Mole and Ratty started off in letters that Grahame wrote to his son from his motoring holiday in Cornwall. He sent this from the Greenbank Hotel in Falmouth: ‘Have you heard about the Toad? He was never taken prisoner by brigands at all. It was all a horrid low trick of his. He wrote that letter himself – the letter saying that a hundred pounds must be put in the hollow tree. And he got out of the window early one morning, and went off to a town called Buggleton and went to the Red Lion Hotel and there he found a party that had just motored down from London, and while they were having breakfast he went into the stable-yard and found their motor-car and went off in it without even saying Poop-poop! And now he has vanished and everyone is looking for him, including the police. I fear he is a bad low animal.

The Railway Children

by E. Nesbit

Book cover for 9781509843169

‘Girls are just as clever as boys, and don’t you forget it,’ says the father of Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis just before he is taken away from them. This gently heroic tale of how a mother copes when her husband is wrongfully arrested is the more powerful for being seen through the eyes of her perceptive daughter, Bobbie, who is clever, kind and never gives up. I am unable to read this slim book without crying at least six times, usually in all the same places.

Little Women

by Louisa May Alcott

Book cover for 9781509827770

I can’t remember a time when the March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy – were not a part of my life. I most identify with Jo, and her tomboyish ways. I was always happier playing with boys than girls when I was younger and liked to scribble, as Jo does. I still reread Little Women often, especially at Christmas as it offers an antidote to the excesses of festive consumption. It makes me cry, but I finish it feeling glad and grateful to be safe and warm, with no one I love being away at war or catching scarlet fever.

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

Book cover for 9781509825363

On Christmas Eve, Pip is visiting his parents’ grave when he meets an escaped convict and agrees to steal some food for him. So begins a relationship that will last as Pip grows into a man and is given opportunities to better himself. The character who made the greatest impression on me as a child – as I read the abridged version from the school classroom trolley – was Miss Havisham, a wealthy spinster who still wears her wedding dress years after she was jilted.

Jane Eyre

by Charlotte Bronte

Book cover for 9781509827794

‘Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!’ A wedding that doesn’t happen is also central to the plot of Jane Eyre. When we meet Jane, her parents are long dead of typhus and she is living with a cruel aunt and being tormented by her cousins. By the time she is standing at the altar, she has fallen in love with Mr Rochester, but her happy ending still lies far in the distance. I could endlessly reread this book, and it says something different to me every time.

I Capture the Castle

by Dodie Smith

Book cover for 9781509843732

‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.’ There are two writers in this delightful tale of an eccentric family living in a broken-down castle. I used to identify with Cassandra, who starts keeping a diary when she is seventeen and captures the interesting details about the rich Americans who come to live next door, but now I fear I am more like her eccentric father, who has writer’s block and doesn’t want to do anything except be left alone to read detective novels.


Dear Reader

by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Book cover for 9781509891528

Cathy Retzenbrink has always been a reader, from a childhood spent with a nose in a book to taking comfort in reading in times of tragedy. Her love of reading led her first to a career as a bookseller and then as a writer, and no matter what the future holds, reading will always help. This moving and joyful exploration of the impact books can have on our lives is packed with recommendations from one reader to another.