Michael Rosen’s ‘Many Different Kinds of Love’ Is Essential Pandemic Reading

(Disclaimer: the book link below is an affiliate link. If you’re a UK or US resident and choose to purchase via this link, I will receive a small commission. Bookshop.org is a website that supports independent bookshops.)

TW/CW: mentions of severe COVID-19-related situations and hospitals.

Michael Rosen, children’s author and poet, was hospitalised after becoming infected with the novel coronavirus. His latest book, Many Different Kinds of Love is a masterfully crafted recollection of his battle with the virus and his recovery.

I’ll be honest, before buying this book I wasn’t too sure about it. Did I really want to read about the pandemic during the pandemic? Like many, reading is an escape for me, so in the middle of a pandemic this book didn’t immediately attract me.

But, I felt I owed it to the 127,000 people who have died of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom and the brave key workers fighting to keep us safe to read about an experience of the pandemic that I have been lucky enough to avoid. So, I purchased the book.

And I am so glad that I did.

Michael’s journey to the brink of death and back is woven together through prose poetry, letters and diary entries from healthcare professionals.

As soon as I read the first page, I knew this was going to be one of the most emotional books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The book opened with a screenshot of a tweet from day 12 of Michael’s coronavirus journey. I found myself haunted by the memory of liking and replying to the tweet. I’d wished him well and kept scrolling, with no idea of how sick he really was. It was surreal to think that the fleeting moment from a year ago could have been one of Michael’s last.

Thinking about this made me uncomfortable so I quickly turned the page, only to be hit with more discomfort. I began to wonder whether I was emotionally strong enough to finish this book, but it would teach me things about the pandemic that no statistics or graphs ever will , so I kept reading.

I filled with rage, then dread when I read the line “He says he thinks I’m fine” because by now we all know that Michael was far from fine. I wasn’t just angry for Michael and his loved ones, I found myself outraged for the immeasurable anonymaus others who didn’t recieve treatment soon enough too, because when healthcare services were so overstretched this was unlikely to be an isolated experience. I began to imagine thousands of families bereaved in cicrumstances Michael had narrowly avoided, a mental image I’d have been happier without.

Through the emotional haze I realised this is exactly how I am meant to feel, this is exactly what Michael wants. He wants us to feel uncomfortable; he wants us to understand. Many Different Kinds of Love is not just about Michael’s journey, it’s about our collective journey as a society, as we began to realise that while coronavirus is rampant everyone’s lives hang in balance, and this once distant and unimaginable illness could endanger any of us.

Like many bookworms, I enjoy reading entire books in single sittings. This one is far too painful for that. As much as I didn’t want to put the book down, I knew that I had to take a break before I ran out of tissues to sob into. For anyone considering reading this book, I would highly recommend taking it slowly- we are privileged that we can step out of this horrific journey by simply closing our books, and there is no shame in taking advantage of that.

After reading 3 chapters I closed the book, hoping that in the future I find someone who treats me with as much compassion as Michael received- with the NHS not only saving his life, but finding time to leave diary entries to help him piece it together too. I was foolish to hope for this when I already had it. The endless love that I was admiring was the selfless work of the NHS, who have always been right there for me when I’ve needed them. For such an uncomfortable read, this certainly left me with a beautiful, warm feeling of belonging, protection, and privilege.

Did you enjoy this book review? Read more about what books inspired and moved us on our Book Reviews page. And if you want to support independent journalism, please consider doing so through our Donations page. Thank you for reading!

10 Exciting Book Releases Coming This June

The first month of summer is around the corner, which means it’s time for a colourful, entertaining list of upcoming releases custom-created for Coffee Time Reviews readers. As always, there are ten recommendations, two for each of the five genres we’ve chosen for this month. From romance, which had to be at the top of the list, to YA, and some gripping Sci-Fi, June will be a promising month for any reading taste.

It took a lot of difficult decisions to put this list together, as always, scrolling through publishers’ schedules naturally drove me to select much more books to recommend. But eventually, the selection was made and I’m very excited about all of these books. How will I ever get to the bottom of my TBR we have yet to find out, but summer is so close and I’m planning to marathon through books. Bring on the sunshine, iced lattes, and lazy afternoons of laying on the grass doing nothing in particular.

(Please note that links mentioned in this article are affiliate links. If you are a UK or US resident, I will receive a small commission if you buy books via these links. Bookshop.org is a website that supports independent bookshops.)


One Last Stop, by Casey McQuiston

Cover of 'One Last Stop' by Casey McQuiston. Pink, with two women on a train platform.
Cover courtesy of Amazon.

For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist.

One Last Stop is the newest release from the acclaimed Red, White & Royal Blue author Casey McQuiston, coming out just in time for Pride Month. One Last Stop tells the story of pancake waitress August and her subway crush, Jane, a punk-looking lesbian who quite literally travelled back in time from the 1970s unawares. In her quest to help Jane figure out where in time she belongs, August learns there may be room for a fairy-tale in her life after all.

Everyone who loved Red, White & Royal Blue is waiting for McQuiston’s next release with high hopes. If her debut is anything to go by, we expect a funny, witty, and intense love story. And everyone’s here for it.

One Last Stop will be published on June 1st, by St. Martin’s Griffin.

Friends with Benedicts, by Staci Hart

Cover of 'Friends with Benedicts', pale green with two people in a diner.
Cover courtesy of Goodreads.

They’ve shared so many summers, but none compare to what they’ll face. Timing is everything. And their time is almost up.

Reminiscent of Taylor Swift’s ’Tis the Damn Season, Friends with Benedicts explores the occasional-hookup-to-lovers trope. Presley and Sebastian spend every summer together until she goes back to California, yearly, on repeat. But a few years after saying goodbye for what they think is the last time, they’re both in town again. Only this time, they find it hard to keep it casual anymore.

There’s something charming to a romance with food in the title and Friends with Benedicts sounds like the perfect cosy, small-town read most of us would probably relate to. The book will be available on June 8th, on Kindle.

Contemporary Fiction

The Other Black Girl, by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Cover of 'The Other Black Girl', dark yellow with a black broken comb.
Cover courtesy of Amazon.

Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books.

What may seem like a potential opportunity for Nella Rogers to feel less alone in the office takes a mysterious turn in The Other Black GirlThe debut starts with Hazel, another black woman to join Wagner Books, where until her arrival, Nella Rogers was the only one. Tired of the isolation and slight hostility, Nella sees a friend in Hazel, until a series of unfortunate circumstances turn the entire office against Nella. When threatening notes start appearing on her desk, Nella begins to uncover a much more twisted and dark set of circumstances than she expected and the thriller slowly starts to take shape.

This book sounds like it will provide a welcome twist to classic race-oriented fiction, and the plot promises unexpected turns of events at any point. The ideal fast-paced read in a social commentary context.

The Other Black Girl will be published on June 1st, by Bloomsbury Publishing.

Animal, by Lisa Taddeo

Cover of 'Animal', showing half of a face with a brown eye.
Cover courtesy of Amazon.

Do you see how this is going? But I wasn’t always that way. I am depraved. I hope you like me.

Animal is one of the few books whose blurb is written from the protagonist’s perspective. It’s short, dark, and thrilling. When Joan witnesses a suicide as she’s having dinner with a married man, a dark thought crosses her mind. The cruelty of her assumptions in the moment leads to her reflecting upon her own life. And what she was doing with a married man.

This sounds like a perfect psychological drama and a great way out of the fluffy, colourful, ever-positive summer reads everyone seems to be releasing. Sometimes, we all need a heart-pounding story full of uncertainty and thrill.

Animal will be released on June 24th, by Bloomsbury Publishing.


Rabbits, by Terry Miles

Cover of 'Rabbits', white background with a colourful rabbit on the right side.
Cover courtesy of Goodreads.

Rabbits is a secret, dangerous and sometimes fatal underground game. The rewards for winning are unclear, but there are rumours of money, CIA recruitment or even immortality.

The eleventh round of a deadly game is about to start. Rabbits tells the story of the game by the same name that gets more dangerous the more invested you become but also promises to uncover the darkest secrets of the universe. When K is finally given a chance to play by the billionaire who once won Rabbits, they realise their true task is to fix the game before it starts. Something has gone wrong. People have gone missing. And the universe is at stake. With time closing in before the eleventh game starts, K needs to decipher its most twisted secrets.

Rabbits sounds like it will get your mind buzzing with inexplicable theories, as it sets the future of the entire galaxy on the shoulders of a nondescript character obsessed with a deadly game. How will K navigate this scenario?

The book will be published on 10th June by Pan Macmillan.

The Ninth Metal, by Benjamin Percy

Cover of 'The Ninth Metal', black background with colourful lines.
Cover courtesy of Risingshadow.net

A powerful new metal arrives on Earth in the wake of a meteor shower, triggering a massive new ‘gold rush’ in the Midwest.

The Ninth Metal provides very little to go by in a short, intriguing blurb that only leaves you wanting to know more. When a new metal is discovered as a consequence of a meteor shower, humankind’s thirst for wealth is awoken once again as they start exploiting the material and change life as we know it. A classic, futuristic take on people’s exploitation of Earth’s resources, The Ninth Metal only leaves you questioning how far things can go before an impending disaster.

HMH Books is set to release it on June 1st.

Young Adult

The Ghosts We Keep, by Mason Deaver

Cover of 'The Ghosts We Keep', dark blue background with a boy and a ghost.
Cover courtesy of Goodreads.

This book will rip your heart out before showing you how to heal from tragedy and celebrate life in the process.

The Ghosts We Keep is a story about grief and learning to live without one of the closest people in your life. When Ethan is killed in a hit-and-run, his brother Liam struggles to navigate the loss which alienates him from his two best friends. But soon Liam finds solace in Ethan’s best friend Marcus, as they both feel understood in each other’s grief.

The Ghosts We Keep sounds similar to The Music of What Happens, another young adult novel about grief and growing up too fast under circumstances out of your control. This will be an emotional read.

The book will be released on June 1st, by PUSH Scholastic.

The Nature of Witches, by Rachel Griffin

Cover of 'The Nature of Witches' showing a girl flipping her brown hair.
Cover courtesy of Amazon.

For centuries, witches have maintained the climate, their power from the sun peaking in the season of their birth. But now their control is faltering.

Clara’s powers allow her to control the weather: it’s a responsibility that comes at too high a cost, and she doesn’t want it. The Nature of Witches tells a story of decisions between happiness and duty, love and power, and Clara needs to make a choice. After falling in love with Sang, another witch, she realises her and Sang’s fates, as well as the world’s, are in her hands. Will she choose love?

The Nature of Witches sounds like another excellent queer romance, perfect for Pride Month this June. The fantastical context and challenging choice Clara needs to make promise an emotional read, and we’re ready for it.

Rachel Griffin’s novel will be published by Sourcebooks Fire on June 1st.


An Atlas of Extinct Countries, by Gideon Defoe

Cover of 'An Atlas of Extinct Countries' showing a map.
Cover courtesy of Goodreads.

Countries die. Sometimes it’s murder, sometimes it’s by accident, and sometimes it’s because they were so ludicrous they didn’t deserve to exist in the first place.

An Atlas of Extinct Countries is exactly that: a collection of nations that disappeared, in one way or another, off the map. The whys, hows, wheres, and whos are all contained within the book, but the stories are not exactly positive. This is not a book about nations of legend that vanish in full glory, quite the opposite. It explains why some of these nations made no sense, to begin with, and what mistakes put them off the map.

An Atlas of Extinct Countries will be released on June 8th, by Europa Editions.

Wanting, by Luke Burgis

Cover of 'Wanting', turquoise background with two people standing on either side of a fence.
Cover courtesy of Goodreads.

A groundbreaking exploration of why we want what we want, and a toolkit for freeing ourselves from chasing unfulfilling desires.

Wanting explores the concept of ‘mimetic desire’ and how every choice we make and everything we want is not entirely independent but rather influenced by others. But Burgis doesn’t stop at only providing the theory. He then shares methods for us to escape ‘blind wanting’ and make us more aware of why we want what we want, focusing on the intention of desire, not the gravity-like force that makes us wish for what other people have.

Wanting will be published on June 1st, by St. Martin’s Press.

‘The Manningtree Witches’ Changes The Way We Think About Women

This is a remarkable portrayal of England’s witch hunts and a nuanced representation of womanhood

It is easy to paint the world in black and white. Even the most well-meaning among us do it to conceptualise the world in ways that are easier to understand. It is hard to combine this simplified way of thinking with the increasing importance of intersectional thinking. A.K. Blakemore’s debut novel, The Manningtree Witches, is a great place to start in noticing the complexities of oppression.

Heading West

Rebecca West lives in Manningtree (Essex) with her widowed mother in 1643, infamously called the Beldam after her husband’s fearsome reputation. The village is mostly run by women as the men fight and die in the English Civil War. The town is run by the support networks that have been built between each character, for example, Rebecca and Beldam West are the only people who come to the aid of Elizabeth Clarke, an old woman who is poor, disabled, and lonely.

When a newcomer arrives in Manningtree, Matthew Hopkins, the town is suddenly being closely observed by a man who is obsessed with ‘maleficium’ (witchcraft) and is cracking down on the village. Matthew Hopkins quickly builds an alliance with John Edes, the local vicar with whom Rebecca is infatuated, to weed out the women who seem the most suspicious.

It isn’t long before Rebecca and others in her community are roped into a torturous interrogation process in which they are damned either way.

Old Language, New Tricks

The language in this book is wonderfully grounded. The simple words and phrases that are initially difficult to wade through eventually give the novel an authentic feel. There a poetic aspect to Rebecca West’s voice that is also baked into a now-antiquated register of English.

A.K. Blakemore did a great job in including challenging vocabulary that is faithful to its historical context and harnessing that unfamiliar language so that the text is still beautiful to read. Rebecca’s narration is grounded but her passing thoughts about the sunrise or her own morality are aesthetically enjoyable.

Language is also woven tightly into the plot itself. Rebecca is almost incriminated as a cautionary tale against “female literacy”. Rebecca’s access to the Bible and to interpret these texts herself means that she is able to doubt the authorities around her (especially those that use their literacy to exploit the illiterate). Language is clearly the key to power in this book, and Rebecca’s access to power as a young woman is cause for concern.

Some Are More Witchy Than Others

The Manningtree Witches is a prime example of how our notions of womanhood must be nuanced in order to gain a full understanding of sexism and misogyny. This novel is a great way to start thinking about all the different components that contribute to a person’s identity and how they are subsequently treated.

It is obvious that the witch-hunts primarily targeted women, even if some men were also tried and punished for witchcraft. However, was it just on account of their womanhood? Why were some women accused of witchcraft, of summoning imps, of cursing people, while others were not? This is where our approach to The Manningtree Witches becomes intersectional.

It is clear that married, healthy, and convenient women did not have to explain themselves. Yeoman Miller and his pregnant wife never fell under Matthew Hopkins’s radar, but Elizabeth Clarke did after she begged them for food during the winter.

For Whom The Rope Swings

Poor, old, disabled, sharp-tongued, and powerful women were in Hopkins’s firing line because they got in the way. Sexual attraction (and the lack thereof) also played a pivotal role in who Hopkins would pursue; Elizabeth Clarke’s ugliness and old age made her an eyesore to be removed whereas his attraction to Rebecca West also contributed to her verdict.

A.K. Blakemore demonstrates the necessity to drop the black-and-white act and acknowledge that some women are more endangered than others. The safety of women depended on how much of a burden they were to their society. Witchcraft seems like the ideal way to dispose of those who need help or to dispose of those who undermine the sovereignty of intellectual men.

Women are not just targeted because they are women; women are targeted when they are particularly vulnerable and less likely to receive support from the people around them.

Back To Now

A.K. Blakemore’s stunningly powerful debut novel doesn’t just whisk us away to a cynical, impactful story, she also gives us the tools to begin thinking about intersectionality. This is an invaluable approach to adopt when we look at feminism and the mistreatment of women.

Without jumping straight into here-and-now issues, The Manningtree Witches encourages us to steer ourselves away from overly simplistic notions of womanhood, sexism, and feminism. A woman is never just a woman by herself, she also has a social class, a certain amount of social capital, varying support networks from her community, and a certain level of power. All of these factors must be taken into consideration when determining the likelihood of misogynistic harm being inflicted on her.

The Manningtree Witches has done a fantastic job of not only providing an exhilarating novel that shows A.K. Blakemore’s brilliant talent for storytelling but also allows us to think about how we should bring more nuanced to discourses surrounding discrimination and oppression.

Did you enjoy this book review? Read more about what books inspired and moved us on our Book Reviews page. And if you want to support independent journalism, please consider doing so through our Donations page. Thank you for reading!

‘Ariadne’ Gives Voice to Women Suffering for Men’s Misdeeds

In retelling the myths through a new lens, Jennifer Saint sheds light on forgotten stories

(Disclaimer: Book links mentioned are affiliate links, and I will earn a small commission if you choose to purchase. Book of the Month mentions are referral codes.)

Every so often, I decide to read something slightly outside my preferred wheelhouse. In these instances, I find myself called to interests and genres I loved in a former life, and this was the case with Jennifer Saint’s Ariadne.

loved Greek mythology as a young adult, and once upon a time many of these myths lived inside my brain. When I listened to the audiobook version of Madeline Miller’s Circe, I learned most of them had left my brain long ago.

I have always nursed complicated feelings about that reading experience. It didn’t help that I chose the audio version, where it would’ve been more difficult to stop my walk/drive/run to look up a particular figure and jog my memory.

Between that and the fact that it was an odd transitionary period in my life, I always wondered whether I would’ve liked the book more if I’d sat down to read it in a different headspace.

It’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s more that I… didn’t know whether I liked it and even now I still don’t?

This memory influenced my decision to choose Ariadne for my Book of the Month in May. Comparisons to Circe are everywhere in reviews and publicity material, and I thought it would be an interesting way to try out a book with a similar vibe and see how it struck me.

And so, I sat down on a Sunday afternoon to read Ariadne.

My first advice to you, dear reader, is that when choosing a book you intend to read in a single day, do not pick one that is based upon Greek tragedy. That is not a headspace you want to live inside for a full day, regardless of how beautiful the prose or how haunting the tale.

But this didn’t occur to me, and I’ve been going through books at a quick enough clip lately. So, I thought I’d keep up the pace.

I didn’t come to Ariadne with a ton of prior knowledge about her story. I knew vaguely (from the jacket copy) that she was involved with Theseus and the Minotaur, and felt that would be enough to carry me.

Like Circe, I think the story carries itself well even in absence of intimate knowledge of Greek mythology. Certainly, there were times when I felt I would’ve better understood where we were headed or where the author made interesting choices if I had a better grip of the myths, but it never hindered my understanding of the story itself.

Rather, I enjoyed being inside Ariadne’s mind and seeing how acutely she observes a truth of so many of our myths and legends — that it is often the women who pay for the faults and wrongdoings of men.

She traces this awareness through her observing her mother, and the story of Medusa, and yet it does not fully save her from becoming a victim in her own right. I’ll hedge here in case you, like me, didn’t really know what happened to Ariadne after the whole business with the Minotaur.

I was a bit shocked when, after the entirety of Part I was told through Ariadne’s eyes, we shifted to the perspective of her sister. This felt an odd narrative choice, as the perspectives then rotated through the rest of the book. Why was Phaedra’s point of view absent from the first part but present throughout the rest? I’m sure there was a reason, but I can’t quite land upon it.

In spite of this, I did enjoy the narration from both perspectives once I settled into understanding that was the book’s plan for Parts II and III.

One of the great things about books like Circe and Ariadne is that they let us see more into the stories of the women who are so often ancillary figures in these stories (though, admittedly, Hera seems to be the one who sets the ball rolling, like, 90% of the time). I enjoyed seeing the inner workings of these women’s minds as they tried to work within the constraints of their place in society to form lives worth living.

I did not enjoy the tragic endings to their stories, though of course, I could have anticipated them since generally speaking Greek myths are not cheery stories.

Books like these are difficult for me to wrap my head around when it comes to rating and reviews, which I so often base upon my enjoyment of a book. And enjoyment hits differently with those books that are sad and painful and tragic.

Did I enjoy myself while reading? In bits and spurts, yes, but with a hand draped over one eye to shield me from the scary future I knew must be lurking for these characters I had come to love.

So perhaps a different metric is in order here. Do I feel like the time it took me to read this book was worthwhile? Yes. Do I feel like I learned a bit about Greek mythology while reimagining it through a more feminist lens? Also yes.

I recommend this book to people who enjoy retellings of old myths, and to those who are okay with having a bit of a cry in the end. And if you do intend to read it over the course of a single day as I did, be prepared for some weird dreams.

Did you enjoy this book review? Read more about what books inspired and moved us on our Book Reviews page. And if you want to support independent journalism, please consider doing so through our Donations page. Thank you for reading!

10 Benefits of Reviewing Books

Reviewing books is the real deal, let’s face it. Every bookworm out there does it, either intentionally, or just as a side-effect of reading a book they absolutely have to rave about (or rage against). I launched a full publication for book reviews just to have an excuse — and give other writers an excuse — to basically not shut up about their favourite reads.

Whenever we finish a book, unless it’s not particularly remarkable, we’re itching to tell someone about it. I’ve driven my closest friends, my boyfriend, and my family crazy on many occasions fangirling about books. Too often do I happen to follow my poor boyfriend around the house talking at great length and in exhausting detail about my latest reads. He tries to indulge me and appear interested. But sometimes I can tell he’s exasperated. But I can’t help it. I can’t shut up about books. And, be honest, if you’re a fellow passionate reader, can you?

Since I’ve recently decided to build a small business, embodied by my — this — publication, for and based on book reviews, I’ve reached a point of reflection on why we do it. Why do we review books? And what are the benefits? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not only talking about people who literally write book reviews, or talk about them on BookTube, Bookstagram, BookTok, BookTwitter…anyway, you get it. No, I’m also talking about the hidden book reviewers out there, blessed be their poor families and friends, who go on and on about their favourite reads just because they can’t help it.

What’s in for us when we review books?

1. We Become More Invested in the Story

The more you talk — or think — about a book, the more the story absorbs you. Mindlessly reading, finishing, then putting a book away, is an entirely different experience from reading, thinking about it, then gathering your thoughts and making them coherent. As you take apart the story unfolding with every page, pondering what you might say (or write) about it, suddenly makes it shine with life and makes you feel like you’re a part of it.

2. We Become Closer to the Characters

Most characters are built through suggestion and show-don’t-tell, rather than by the author literally serving you all the details on a silver plate. Unless you think about characters’ behaviours, voices, languages, and attitudes, sometimes you miss some key aspects of their personalities.

The beauty of a well-written book is that it doesn’t have to call a character good, bad, desperate, loving, or kind. You can figure it out by analysing their story arcs. But how else would you analyse the characters, and in turn connect to them on a deeper level, if you didn’t think about how you’d present them to someone else?

3. We Appreciate the Writing Style More

Every author has a style. Some of them more distinguishable than others. In high school, I was on a philology and humanities course profile, which meant I had to critically analyse many works of literature. This has formed my understanding of writing quality and style, which helps me appreciate books in more unique ways now.

Whenever I think about reviewing a book, I automatically take into consideration the writing style, which I’m usually not aware of while reading and focusing on the story. But reviewing the book serves as a reminder that reading is much more than just a story, it’s witnessing an art form.

4. We Become More Aware of Our Reading Tastes

How many times do you finish a book and know it’s the exact type of read that works for you? For me, it didn’t use to happen that often. But the more I thought about what I liked and what I disliked in every book I picked up, the more I started to have an intuition towards what works perfectly for me. And although my reading tastes are quite wide, there are factors that influence my exact choice at any one time. And reading with a review in mind places me more in tune with my preferences.

5. We Become More Mindful

This benefit not only enhances your reading experience, but it applies to any other experience outside of books. When trying to make sense of your thoughts towards a book, you inherently become more mindful of how it made you feel, how you connected to the story, what worked and what didn’t. And isn’t that a wonderful habit to develop in general? Trying to make sense of your thoughts and feelings about anything in particular is always a recipe for success, so experimenting with it as a reader is a great place to start.

6. We Learn to Love the Words on the Page

The more books you review, the more inclined you are to pay attention, not only to the story, your feelings, or the characters but also to the language itself. Language fascinates me. There is little in life I love more than words. Usually, a powerful quote makes my mind explode with delight much more than a satisfying plot or a suitable ending. So next time you pick up a book, think about how you’d review the language. It might change the whole experience.

7. We Start Asking Questions

If a book leaves me with a lot to think about, that’s usually a 5-star read for me. I love books that expand beyond their physical existence. And whenever I know a review is in the works, I get digging for deeper meanings. It’s wonderful, not only for my reading experience, which is suddenly enhanced by all these questions I’m trying to decipher but also for my brain, which feels like it’s buzzing with curiosity. It’s always worth it not to take a book for what it is. There will always be hidden messages.

8. We Become Inspired

You don’t have to be a writer to take inspiration from books. But especially if you are, there’s a world of possibilities in every book. Thinking about how you’d review it (or talk about it) usually makes you aware of tropes, writing techniques, ideas, or plot instruments that could be useful in your own work, life, or relationships with others. Books educate in many ways. You just have to take a closer look.

9. We Connect with Other Readers

This is probably my favourite benefit of reviewing books: you find and connect with other people who share the same opinions or reading tastes. Even better, sometimes a fellow reader discovers a great book through your review. Book reviews are some of the best conversation starters for the reading community and a lot of the time you get insights into new angles to see your favourite books from.

10. We Escape the Rush Culture

Nowadays, it’s all about quantity, and unfortunately, that culture has taken over the reading space too. It’s all about piles of books you can’t even hold in your arms. It’s all about achieving 200% of your Goodreads challenge. Which is why, driven by the countless readathons, superhuman amount of books everyone seems to breeze through, and impossible reading speeds of readers on the internet, a lot of us might feel like rushing through books is the ultimate way into the reading community.

No. Just slow down. Pause. Take a step back. How would you talk about this book? How would you review it? Thinking about this makes you realise the beauty of reading doesn’t lie in turning pages at light speed. And that’s okay. Authors labour for months, sometimes years, to get their books published to a certain quality. Enjoy them to their fullest.

If you can’t shut up about reading and would like a place to publish your rants, please consider writing for Coffee Time Reviews. We publish anything to do with books and reading, and our focus is pour-your-heart-out book reviews. Visit our Write for Us page to find out how to become a writer. And if you want to support independent journalism, please consider doing so through our Donations page. Thank you for reading!

‘People We Meet on Vacation’ Was Not the Book I Expected

(Disclaimer: Book links to follow are affiliate links; mentions of Book of the Month are referral codes. If you choose to purchase via these links, I will receive a small commission.)

An author who lives in my hometown of Cincinnati writing a book that features my favorite trope? Count me in.

I actually did not realize that People We Meet On Vacation was a friends-to-lovers story when I chose it for my next read. I picked it up from Book of the Month solely because I loved Emily Henry’s prior novel, Beach Read. Maybe I scanned the synopsis briefly, but honestly, I had no idea what to expect until I sat down to read the jacket flap before starting.

From the cover, if you’d asked me what I expected from People We Meet on Vacation, I’d probably have guessed that our romance centered around people who met, well… on vacation.

Instead, our heroine and hero already know one another and have been friends traveling the world together for several years. Color me (pleasantly) surprised.

Since I read How Not to Fall in Love directly prior, I was a little wary on overdoing a good trope. Thankfully, the two books could not approach the premise more differently. It helps that the characters are quite different in age, as well — HNTFIL is a YA rom-com, whereas PWMOV spans over ten years of friendship, well into the “career crises, back spasms, and homeownership” age range.

I hate to gush about two books in a row, but who am I kidding I love to gush about books.

The basic premise of People You Meet on Vacation is that best friends Polly and Alex met in college and started a tradition of taking an annual Summer Trip together. Polly becomes a travel blogger and then a travel writer for a prominent magazine in New York, while Alex stays in their Ohio hometown to teach high school and care for his aging father.

Through it all, the Summer Trip remains… until a misunderstanding puts it — and their entire friendship — on hiatus for two years.

Unhappy with her life and not sure why, Poppy receives the advice to think back to the last time she was happy, which of course brings her back to Alex and their last, fateful Summer Trip together.

So, naturally, she decides to see whether she can remedy things between them by asking him to take one more trip together to prove to him that it can be the way it was. The question is… is that really what either of them wants?

This was a really fun take on the friends-to-lovers story, with a nontraditional narrative structure in that it jumps in time throughout the various Summer Trips to slowly paint the picture of a long friendship and history of that “five to fifteen percent what-if” that goes unsaid between them.

Through this structure, we get to visit all kinds of places with them and see how their sense of adventure — and Polly’s career — shift and change over time from shoestring budget trips on a dime to the more lavish, all-expenses-paid trips she takes as a full-time travel writer for a magazine.

One of the things I enjoy about Henry as a writer is how she takes the familiar and puts just enough of a spin on it to make it feel new again. In Beach Read, I braced for the traditionally massive Bad Thing to get in the couple’s way, and it never quite came in the way I expected.

Here, the oh-so-fun “only one-bed” trope becomes a jumping-off point for Alex to have a back spasm from insisting upon sleeping on the pullout chair/bed, which subverted my expectations in a fun way.

Not that the bed doesn’t get used to full effect because of course, it does.

I devoured this book in a day while on a weekend trip to a lovely little cabin in the woods, which is always a special way to experience a book. Nevertheless, I know I would’ve loved it regardless of setting, and even if there weren’t fun little mentions of Cincinnati sprinkled in along the way.

I especially appreciated how the love story was allowed to be complicated, about more than just admitting feelings, but also thinking through how you combine two lives into one, and whether that can even fit what both parties want.

The declaration of love here is not the end-all-be-all of the relationship. Polly and Alex are living very different lives and have to work through whether they can make their separate wants and desires align enough to sustain their relationship. They both even go through a little bit of therapy before we can arrive on the doorstep of the Big Romantic Gesture and accompanying HEA.

Admittedly, I’m probably going to take a little breather from the friends to lovers trope with my next read, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t thrilled to find that this book went in a direction the title did not prepare me for.

There are still plenty of people that we meet on vacation with Polly and Alex through it all, but I loved this take of falling in love while traveling together rather than meeting someone to fall in love with in some exotic location.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a good summer read, who loves travel, or who (like me) just can’t get enough of the friends-to-lovers trope.

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‘Merging the Drift’ by Tom Bray Offers a Refreshing Commentary on Death

Childhood death and trauma isn’t a topic I’ve ever delved deep into with my reading habits. As an avid fan of dystopian novels, paired with a bit of magical realism, you could say it was going to be a safe bet I would enjoy the debut novel from Tom Bray, Merging the Drift. It’s almost hard to define exactly what category this novel falls into, as it contains so many wonderful components all weaved together.

Above all, it’s a multi-narrated story that centres on a group of young adults who have all experienced trauma in some way. It opens with Ali — an occupant of ‘the Drift’ — a type of entity where deceased children exist as their adult selves. But they do not exist in the world we all know. They see their adult lives (that they should have had) play out in front of them but yet have no control over its path. It’s an original and thought-provoking construct, to say the least.

In fact, it’s safe to say I’ve never encountered anything like this before. As death was set to be so apparent in this novel, I was pleasantly surprised by how uplifted I felt when finishing the final pages. It tackles many heavy issues — abuse, sexual objectification, the male gaze, and violence, to say the least — but as a reader, you can’t help but leave the book feeling uplifted.

Trigger warning — please don’t continue to read this article (or book) if you are affected by any of the following: alcoholism, sexual assault, estrangement, grief/loss, hallucinations, physical injury & wounds or torture/psychological torture.

Please note — a copy of this book was kindly sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis and Setting the Scene

At the heart of it all, Merging the Drift is about giving deceased children and opportunity to live some form of life, even if it is played out in an imagined state through the Drift. As someone who lost their brother prematurely just over a year ago, there is a certain type of comfort that came with the idea of this concept.

The story is told through the third-person perspective of four main characters — Danny, Ali, Kitty and Kerri — over the course of a week as their lives gradually intertwine. Each has experienced some suffering, and the reader is treated to explore the human psyche through Bray’s crafty characterisation.


“How much do you know about your death?”

On the morning of his 18th birthday Ali woke up to his family home unusually silent, and deserted. He soon learns that he never lived the childhood he remembers and all his memories up until that point are fake. He is now alone, and an occupant of the Drift, an entity where deceased children coexist as their adult selves, with the ability to view a parallel version of their being in a separate, fictional world, without any influence or control over this life path.

Almost three years on, Ali has settled into a routine, but events from the real world he was taken from as a child begin to impact on the limits of his existence as he develops a strange connection with a fellow occupant seeking an unprecedented truth that surfaces a disturbing past and will forever bind together multiple souls.

Follow Ali and three others over the course of a mind-bending week as each seeks comfort and answers from their existence.”

The story ends nicely by tying up many loose ends but has plenty of room for a sequel. When I interviewed Tom Bray a while ago, he told me he was already working on turning Merging the Drift into a series, so it will be interesting to see how the characters develop.

“MTD does work as a standalone novel, but hopefully, there is enough interest to see what is still to come, especially as book two delves more into deep character connections with strong references to events and repercussions from the first, so you’ll soon see why certain things played out as they did and become very significant.” — Tom Bray

Themes, the Story and Premise

What I loved about this book is that it tackled so many contrasting themes. At the heart of it is suffering and death, but the existence of the Drift makes it possible to see so much hope and come away from it feeling uplifted.

As the story opens with Ali, who died before his 18th birthday, we are immediately plunged into what appears to be a dark world. He soon learns that all his perceived ‘memories’ are fake and that he hasn’t been ‘existing’ and living in the real world.

However, he does soon come to terms with his existence over the novel, especially when he starts developing a connection with another occupant.

Although there are so many elements of magical realism through the use of the Drift and the commentary on a magical form of afterlife for children, I would say this is a character-driven novel due to the use of multiple narrations and the exploration of the human psyche that is played out through inner monologues. As readers, you are firmly inside the heads of the characters you are reading from.

They all have their own problems they are wading through — whether that be difficulties in family life, trauma, relationships or life in Northern working-class England. Intertwined with these human and relatable topics are stunning elements of magical realism such as time travel, distorted memory, perception and course, and the afterlife, which makes it an original and compelling take on death and suffering.

Characters and Execution

The characters in this novel are young, and when navigating relationships or family life, it really shows. Kitty is the embodiment of this, a feisty teenager who has a strained relationship with her mum. Despite these difficulties, Kitty is lucky enough to have Kerri — her Drift guardian of sorts — who is invisible to others. Kerri isn’t afraid of speaking her mind and showing her true colours, but as the novel develops, we soon find out why she behaves like this.

Although I admired Kerri for being a strong, female character, it was Danny who I connected with the most. He had a difficult upbringing with his Mum having cancer and being adopted into a foster family. He is quite the cynic but, throughout the novel, maintains a sense of optimism.

In many ways, he is a typical teenager in the navigation of his relationship with his girlfriend, but throw in a bit of time travel and interference from the Drift, this gets a bit challenging. But he shows a lot of vulnerability as a male character, which I really appreciated.

I have to admit, I found the concept of Kitty/Kerri and Kirsty a bit difficult to get my head around and had trouble remembering who was who throughout the duration of the novel. Ali and Danny probably stood out to me the most as they were more of a separate entity.

In Summary

Overall, this is a highly unique and compelling novel. There is so much to enjoy as a reader — including the uplifting portrayal of premature death and the rekindling of family relationships. There are many dark moments, as explored with all of the characters, but this demonstrates the strength of these narrators. I enjoyed being inside the heads of multiple characters and how the connection between them was gradually explored.

The concept of the Drift is so original that you naturally feel drawn to it. Despite creating such complex and original characters, I feel that this multi narration technique wasn’t as successful as it could have been. I found myself frequently getting lost and struggling to connect the dots throughout the novel, but I hope with the sequel and the extension of the series, this will be explained better.

Merging the Drift has so much potential, but sometimes the plot gets lost as the connection between characters isn’t entirely self-explanatory. Despite this, I loved how original this story was and how uplifting its portrayal of death and suffering was. I’m excited to see where the series goes and how this afterlife world develops.

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‘Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982’ Made Me Realise I Was Wrong About Misogyny

TW/CW: Mentions of gender discrimination and assault

If you also think you haven’t been the victim of gender prejudice, this book could help you see the truth

I’ve always thought that I’ve never experienced misogyny. I’ve never felt like men had better chances than me or that they treated me without respect. I had male and female friends and I felt appreciated around them. But now I know I was wrong. The sexist behaviour of teachers, classmates, and strangers on the street seemed normal to me. “Boys are like that” – that’s what people used to say, so I believed it. 

Since I’m independent and living on my own, I started noticing the underlying misogyny in our daily life. My experiences as a woman in society are nothing special, it’s ordinary. Every woman experiences misogyny at least once in her lifetime.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 , by Cho Nam-Joo, grabbed my attention at the right moment, when I felt hopeless in a world designed for men. 

“Don’t you have a washing machine for laundry and vacuum cleaner for cleaning? Women these days – what have you got to whine about?” (Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, page 136)

The book tells the story of an ordinary young woman living in Korea, who struggles to manage family, career and faces misogyny in every part of her life.  

When we meet Jiyoung for the first time she is in a dissociative state. One day she acts and talks like her mother, the other day she says she is her college friend, who had died during childbirth. At first, her husband Daehyun thinks she is pranking him until she acts like that in front of his parents at the holiday dinner. Scared and confused, Daehyun asks his wife to see a therapist, to which she happily consents.

From that point on the reader follows Jiyoung through her life, from her birth in 1982 till her adulthood. Even before she was born, Jiyoung faced gender discrimination when her mum apologised to her mother-in-law for having a girl. She and her sister were ranked below their younger brother, who always got the perfect pieces of tofu, dumplings, and patties, while the girls had to eat the ones that fell apart. The brother always had the best socks, underwear, and school bags, while the girls had to take what was left. 

In elementary school, Jiyoung’s deskmate started to hit her, but instead of punishing him, the teacher said to her: “He likes you. […] Boys are like that”. In middle school, the girls had to follow a strict dress code to not distract the boys. When Jiyoung met her husband’s family for the first time, they talked about why Jiyoung couldn’t get pregnant and what they were doing to get pregnant. When she was pregnant, Jiyoung had to quit her job. Since people at the park called her a “mum-roach”, a stay-at-home mum who is living off her husband’s paycheck, she would never be the same. 

“Companies find smart women taxing. Like now – you’re being very taxing, you know?” (Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, page 84)

Reading about Jiyoung’s experiences was shocking and it made me angry. Especially, because I can relate to her more than I want to admit, even though I’m 18 years younger. Jiyoung’s story is that of every woman. I have been inappropriately touched by men while being at the club. Men have catcalled me on the streets. Boys looked under my skirt in school.  People have asked me when I’ll get married and have children, something my boyfriend does not have to hear. It still happens, and that makes me feel unprotected and even worthless as a woman. The shocking aspect of the novel is that it shows us how women are deprived of basic experiences, or needs, on a daily basis, not only in rare situations. The author backs that up with many statistics and newspaper articles, which makes the book even more powerful. Jiyoung is born in Korea, a country with a high gender inequality rate, but her experiences still apply to any woman, regardless of where she comes from.

Reading about Jiyoung’s struggle to find a job, and how employers chose unqualified men over qualified women, how it’s harder for women to get a pay rise, angered me – and rightly so. This is something I’ve been thinking about for the last few months. I’m still a student, but I’ll work in a mostly male industry. Will I face the same difficulties as Jiyoung? I always tried to repress those thoughts to ease my mind. But Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 made me realise this problem is real and that I will have to face it one day.

It is hard to say that I enjoyed that book, as it showed me even more that women are not equal to men. Misogyny and gender bias are deeply rooted in our society, that we sometimes forget to question them. The book helped me to notice that, and I’m sure that it will help many other women and men. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is my reading highlight of this year so far. And maybe it will become yours. 

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Falling in Love With ‘How Not To Fall In Love’

Okay. So I’ve read a lot of great books so far this year and even given out a handful of five-star reviews on Goodreads.

Yet, it’s been a while since I came across one of those ‘can’t put it down, stay up past bedtime, did someone actually write this book specifically for me’ — reading experiences. Probably not since I read Well Met and Waiting for Tom Hanks, in fact.

Add How Not to Fall In Love by Jacqueline Firkins to this list, because, wow, did I strongly consider not going to bed until I finished it. Sleep prevailed, but only just — I started reading alongside my morning coffee and did not stop until I got to the end.

Now, I’m going to try to put my arm-flailing post-book excitement into words. I will do my best to avoid specific spoilers but I am going to talk tropes, which may give away a thing or two.

(Disclaimer: Book links that follow are affiliate links. I received an advanced e-galley of this book through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review).

If there is one trope I cannot seem to quit, it’s the ‘best friends who don’t realize they’re in love until they do’ trope. I once watched 13 Going on 30 three times in the same day, starting again at the beginning as soon as I got to the end.

I picked up How Not to Fall In Love on NetGalley because it seemed like it might be up my alley. Then I forgot enough about the synopsis that I couldn’t quite be sure where things were headed as the book began. Yes, she made a bet with her best friend, but that bet seemed to entail…another love interest?

Yes, my friends — we have ourselves a classic YA love triangle. Er, quadrangle?

The basic premise of the book is this: Harper works in her mom’s wedding dress shop, dealing with fretful brides and petty arguments between bridesmaids. A summer fling left her heartbroken and certain she’s going to avoid love like her single mother before her.

Best friend and boy-next-door Theo, on the other hand, gets heartbroken about once a week. He falls fast, and hard, and easily, and… girls tend to run in the other direction after one too many earnest texts, seven-course picnics, or accordion serenades.

How to solve these problems? With a bet, of course.

Harper agrees to teach Theo how not to fall in love, but she has to prove she’s got the chops by asking someone out herself. She sets up an online dating profile for him and finally gets up the courage to ask out the cute boy who works out in the gym across the way from her mom’s store.

Said love interest is cute, sweet, and seems like an all-around great guy. Harper definitely has feelings for him, but there’s just the tiny matter of the fact that, in taking the perfect photo for his dating profile, it suddenly occurs to her that her nerdy friend Theo is hot. Oops.

You probably guessed this from the aforementioned trope obsession, but I heedlessly threw myself on the ‘best friends in love’ ship the moment Theo made his way onto the page. Never mind that the other love interest is introduced first, or that he really does seem like a pretty great guy.

Oh no, hand me a sensitive best friend in a Dungeons & Dragons t-shirts who’s prone to getting his heart broken and spending the weekends off LARPing in a field somewhere. Sold, 100%, every single time.

As much as I love a classic love triangle, they can be a bit clumsily tossed in at times. Part of what I enjoyed/agonized over in this book is that both guys are viable options for Harper. Her confusion about her feelings in choosing between them feels genuine and authentic, and I was impressed by how much we see her think through the conflict on the page.

A lot of times it feels like these love triangles exist more in the minds of fans than the characters themselves (looking at you, Katniss Everdeen). It was refreshing to see Harper genuinely trying to untangle her own emotions as she realizes it’s possible to have feelings for two people at once and try her best to go about managing that in a way that’s honest and careful of everyone’s feelings.

Even as I raged every time Harper did anything that went against my chosen ship, I felt that regardless of her final choice, I would have a strong sense that she thought it through and chose wisely in the end. This isn’t one of those stories where there’s an obvious choice because one love interest isn’t fully fleshed out or is secretly kind of a jerk, and I liked that nuance.

Even if, in my mind, there is only ever one actual option when you’re choosing between two guys and only one of them makes his own chainmail.

It’s also nice to see guys who cry without shame or judgment, as Theo does, and have a strong female figure who has chosen to be single in her adult life for valid reasons. That choice being respected even within the universe of a teenage rom-com felt refreshing, especially in a woman who sews wedding dresses for a living and could easily be portrayed as bitterly single instead of happily so.

As you can tell, I would give this book more than five stars if Goodreads would let me (I need more rating options, but that’s another topic for another day).

Not only did it play to all my favorite tropes, but it approached the teenage love story in a way that felt believable. No one was making any promises of forever in the end, and we got a much more realistic “happily for right now,” which I appreciate.

I highly recommend this book if you like a good love triangle, appreciate the occasional fencing tournament, or if you, like me, cannot get enough of the best friends realizing they’re in love trope.

How Not to Fall In Love will be released on December 21st, 2021. It is available for preorder on Amazon or directly from the publisher, HMH.

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What’s on the Outside Counts Too

Dive into why books are important not only as vessels for stories but also as physical objects

Reems and reems have been written about books, with most focusing on the text inside them as if it exists separately from the physical book. Today’s reading habits perhaps support this view, as most titles are available in eBook form and so are fully divorced from their paper-bound bodies. It is understandable, but it forgets the pleasure that books can provide as objects. 

This stretches from the joy of opening a new book, with crisp pages, tense spine, and unknown promise, to the comfort of returning to an old favourite, with its spine cracked to open in all the best places, drawing you back into the story at all the right places, or as old train tickets-cum-bookmarks slip out, reminding you of that trip you took with the book as company. 

Why Holding a Book Improves the Reading Experience

It is these physical aspects that separate books from other written media and, I think, elevate the pleasure of reading. Most modern book sizes are rather odd, being based on how many times an animal skin was folded, and even now terms for book formats are a mess with terms meaning different things in different countries. 

But what nearly all books have in common, is that they sit nicely in the human hand. From the reassuring weight of a hardback to the elegance of a slim paperback that can slip into a jacket pocket, books are rarely too ungainly to read wherever and however you want. This, coupled with the almost rhythmical turning of pages as you progress, makes reading a physical act. 

I would be very surprised if anyone could say they do not alter their reading speed, subconsciously perhaps, as they near the end of a book. This might be racing to the end, or savouring every last page, but it is facilitated by the physical measure that pages give to text.  

And as your fingers turn the pages, your other senses get involved. New books, which please the eye with their pristine paper and that smell of ink and almost chemical freshness. Or older books releasing a hint of must, as your eyes scan over the gentle foxing of time which is bound into the very matter of the pages. 

Sometimes the physical allure of a book can be more important than its text. For instance, I have a copy of all of Lord Byron’s poems which is a lovely old book (about 130 years old). It is a tactile delight, just the right heft and with some pages that are still uncut. It has a gentle leathery vanilla smell with just a touch of musky degeneration giving the suggestion of damp leaves and pepper—in other words, the perfect old book smell.

However, for all its physical benefits, I very rarely read any poems from it, as the text is tiny and crammed in making it hard to follow. Instead, I keep the book as an object, which I occasionally pick up and flick through. If a poem catches my eye, I will read it in another form, but that book is what has sparked my interest.

Books Are a Delight for All Senses

The sensory nature of a book is felt even before it is opened. To me, buying books always feels slightly self-indulgent, as if I am buying myself presents without any justification. This is tied up with them as objects. It would feel rather odd to send someone a long text document, as separate pages, for a present, but handing over a book feels natural. Books give body to ideas and emotions in ways that words alone never could. 

I have recently got into ordering lots of books online and love how they arrive. The way one shop (Fox Lane Books) wraps each book in orange tissue paper, so I can transfer them, still wrapped from the box they were delivered in, straight to my to-be-read pile, is perfection. Then each time I start a new book, I have a moment’s pleasure unwrapping it, feeling the delicate paper against the solidity of the book. This wrapping also adds a moment of time, and so draws out the anticipation of starting something new.

Once you are eye to eye with a book, you get to consider them as pieces of art. I will not go into cover design in any real depth as that would warrant a whole article, but there is something to be said for books as art. One bookshop near me has a lovely frontage, which it keeps lit for a while after closing, so if I am ever walking back that way after dark, say from the pub, I nearly always alter my route so I can spend a moment or two, admiring the books as you might paintings in a gallery. 

Books of course do not tend to exist alone. They crowd garrulously onto shelves with their spines competing for attention. Yet they maintain a certain beauty, even as they fight to be read and appreciated. They can be regimented with an ordered perfection by series, or a messy record of which took up residence last. Either way, they gain something from their grouping.

A shelf of books, especially one that is slightly overfilled, adds a sense of warmth and comfort to any room it is in. I suppose it is the knowledge that you could never be bored in that room, even if they are all books which you have read before.  

The Books Industry: A Sensorial Business?

It is not just books alone that have power as objects. It is also the surrounding apparatus that books seem to attract. 

Intentionally designed bookmarks alone, are not that interesting, although bookmarks can give a nice sense of where I bought a book. I prefer it when the last reader has used whatever was to hand. That way I get to see what they were doing as they read. 

Often, I find old train tickets used. This is especially enjoyable when it is a book I have read before, as it reminds me of what I was doing then. But other times it is more of an insight into a different person’s life, be it a receipt or forgotten shopping list.

Second-hand books also frequently have pages with corners turned down and other odd creases. This can be annoying when you want to hold a book and think of it as an untouched object waiting to be consumed, without reminders of the last reader. Yet with many books, these little signs of their previous lives can add an extra dimension. 

With any medium, the physical nature of it, and the paratext, will alter how you approach the main text. If the last reader has folded the odd corner or perhaps even taken a pen to underline points, you are nudged into a different way of approaching the main text. This can be a simple as reading an anthology of poems and starting on one that has a corner folded over, or it can radically change how you read a thriller, for the previous reader’s alterations might draw your attention to details that you might otherwise have missed.   

Second-Hand Books and the Marks of Time

Alongside these physical reminders of the past reader, I find book inscriptions and ownership marks fascinating. I am deliberately using the slightly woolly phrase ‘ownership marks’ as sometimes these are just names neatly written on the front flyleaf, other times elaborate personal ex libris stamps or bookplates, and sometimes library bookplates hinting at slightly dubious histories. 

There is something about reading an old book and then noticing that it was once part of a university library and so thinking about how this book you have read for pleasure might have been the source of many painful nights of studying. There is also something rather endearing about many inscriptions which record gifts and life events. Many of the old non-fiction books I have, start with inscriptions wishing good luck for a new school or university and so for a moment give me a glimpse into someone else’s life.

Of course, second-hand books tend to have a habit of acquiring many owners, and so there will be multiple marks alongside each other. You might see a book that has a school bookplate from the ’50, a crossed-out inscription and date from the ‘80s, an undamaged inscription without a date, and a mix of half rubbed-out prices in the faint pencil of multiple booksellers. In a way, it becomes like archaeology, as you work back through layers building up a history of ownership and wonder how each might correspond to the dents and stains the cover has gathered. 

This is why the physical nature of books matters. While new, they can be a pleasure for the senses, and offer the promise of a good read, but as they age, they gain interest and so move even further away from being just methods of presenting text. 

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