Review: While You Were Reading by Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus

Title: While You Were Reading
Author: Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus
Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Adult

BLURB

Words are messy. Love is messier.
A hilarious, insightful new novel from the creators of Books on the Rail
Meet Beatrix Babbage – 29-year-old dog-earer of books and accidental destroyer of weddings.
After ruining her best friend’s nuptials, Bea relocates to the other side of the country in search of a fresh start, including meeting new people, living life to the fullest and finally pulling off balayage.
But after a few months, life is more stagnant than ever. Bea’s job is dead-end. Her romantic life? Non-existent. And her only friends are her books, her barista and her cleaning lady.
Then Bea stumbles across a second-hand novel, inscribed with notes. Besotted with the poetic inscriptions, Bea is determined to find the author … and finds herself entangled in one hell of a love quadrangle.
Funny, poignant and insightful, While You Were Reading reveals that there’s no such thing as perfection, the value of true friendship and, most importantly, the power of not living in fiction, but still reading it … Often.
A love story for book lovers that celebrates much more than romance. (via Goodreads)

THOUGHTS

I was looking for a breather after reading two heavy books after the other (I am looking at you Jade War and The Dragon Republic) when I came across this gem in Twitter. And you know what? I’m glad I did! I found another spirit animal in the name of Bea Babbage. This book is quirky and cute and I was filled with so much warmth after reading it. Ali and Michelle literally expanded on one of my imagined meet-cutes for myself 😂 and it truly felt like an ode to all the booklovers out there. There’s even bookstagram in here! (And Bea’s bookstagram game is waaay better than mine, I tell you.) This book is so full of characters I would so like to meet in real life: A poet barrista. A perky pastry chef. An anonymous co-worker you could talk to about books in the restroom cubicles. A person who scribbles breathtaking thoughts in a book.

She had always had a soft spot for second-hand books. There was something about reading the same book somebody else had already lived through.

The book scribbles are a charming thing as well. Scouring second-hand bookstores, I’m always on the hunt to get this kind of books – where the previous ownership is tangible (scoping out the severly damaged ones, of course) and you can sort of see the history. For me, books like these felt loved – and I really respond to that. But you rarely see these lately because books like these, you can only come across in flea markets. The sort of quest Bea have gone through to get to the bottom of the identity of the previous owner of the book was heartwarming and the conclusion of it satisfying.

The notes scribbled inside it were the sort of things that she had always wished someone would say to her, but never had. In fact, each and every annotation made her feel more and more like someone was missing in her life. That person who saw deep inside your soul, and despite what they found there, still liked you. Someone who said words you still thought about long after they’d been spoken. And someone who, for once, Bea had finally chosen – even if they had yet to choose her back.

One might argue that this book is a bit cliched and the story somewhat predictable… so why give it a 5? I know, I know – but hear me out: There’s something about a book resonating so much to you that it is as if your thoughts and feeling and tucked-away dreams are reflected in paper. I can only count how many book characters I’ve related to so much in my fingers and one of them is Bea. Her romanticism. Her love for books. Sadly, even her hesitation to participate in real life compared to dreaming about book characters and being stuck in a fictional world. And the way she cautiously live her life, outlined and cautious – it’s all me. And add to that that this is an adult character – which takes the matter even further because I can relate to all of it: the nerdy life + the struggle to be a (somewhat) responsible, functioning adult trying to keep up with her professional and personal life. Sure, I can see how many teen characters from YA have this sort of dreamy romantic way of looking at things but rarely do I see it written in an adult’s perspective – lightly ignoring the probability of it being too ingrained in some people’s lives that it is carried over even when they get a little bit older. This is for the adults that still dreams of romantic things and happy ending. For the ones that still love and appreciate the comfort of written words so much that it is still an escape from their hectic lives after all these years. Honestly, I felt seen. A “29-year-old dog-earer of books” – dial this down by two years and this is probably something I will write for my bio just to be witty.

‘Your eyes light up when you do that, you know?’ ‘Do what?’ Bea asked. ‘When you look at a book you love. They get bigger than they already are, which you would think is impossible, and then it’s like they’re dancing. I’ve never seen anyone so happy. It’s infectious.’ ‘I didn’t realise you were watching me so closely, creep.’

I don’t wanna focus on the romance so much in this review – though these are(some of it, at least) the exact things listed in my journal of imagined meet-cutes (LOL, I know); the kind of moments I imagine for myself in those brief instances I allow myself to look at romance through pastel filters — just because the greatest takeaway I got from this book is Bea’s journey and her growth from that – which is profound for me, even if people may dismiss it as meager. Yes this is romance, but there is so much more.

Between the aisles, between the shelves, We see an image of ourselves. Not one that sits and stands and waits, But one that moves and finds, relates. You can’t be sure, it must be said, What transformation lies ahead. But with an open mind, we’re told, A new beginning will unfold.

This is a story of a woman coming into her own after so many years of being metaphorically “stuck”. Sadly speaking, due to social media and stuff, I’ve always had this weird sense that “coming into your own” or “finding your path” is something that has an expiration date. But in reality, it doesn’t have to be. It is never too late: to pursue your passion, to start intentionally doing things that make you happy, to try to make changes in your life – changes that you think you needed all this time. The last few chapters of this book really made me happy as we see Bea finally embracing life.

I can keep listing so many things I love about this but then this post would be unnecessarily long. So instead, I am saying: please please please grab a copy of While You Were Reading and read it! I hope y’all would love it as much as I did. ❤

RATING

QUOTABLE QUOTES

…the most radical thing she had done in the eight years between finishing school and landing a nine-to-five was accidentally ordering escargot in a Paris café, expecting it to be a raisin pastry.

If this is not me, I don’t know what is. LOL.

Inside, the familiar smell of fresh paperbacks beckoned her like an old friend. Books of all shapes and sizes lined the shelves that snaked around the store, and Bea immediately felt at home.

And it’s not like she hadn’t been happy, it was just that, in the last few months, it had started to feel like her life had chosen her, and not the other way around.

Maybe I’m just tired of following somebody else’s narrative. Or some other narrative I think I should be following. I just want to be able to call the shots a little more, and, I guess, work according to a better moral code. I want to have more meaning in my life, more purpose.

Try now, try now, it isn’t too late.

GET THE BOOK! >> Order it here!

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Auditor by profession and a 'round-the-clock geek 🤓 from the 🇵🇭. I'm a coffee-holic INTJ with an unhealthy obsession with books and stationery. I'm also a Sssslytherin 🐍. I word-vomit over at Twitter and posts book pics at Instagram: @pagesandcc . I also blog at https://pagesandcoffeecups.com/ .

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