I have wanted to read Anne Bogel’s I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life since it was published in 2018. I adore books about books, and find them incredibly relaxing to read. I therefore treated myself to a secondhand copy of this gem during an impromptu pandemic book haul.
Bogel is the creator of the Modern Mrs Darcy blog, which I must admit I had never heard of, as well as a podcast entitled ‘What Should I Read Next?’ which sounds quite wonderful, if dangerous… On the back of I’d Rather Be Reading, she is labelled a ‘tastemaker’. Bogel describes herself as ‘a writer, certified book nerd, and all-around bookish enthusiast’.
In the reviews which adorn the gorgeous little hardback edition which I read, the book is variously described as ‘a love letter to the reading life’, ‘a self-portrait in books – weaving together all the readers she has been’, and ‘a charming exploration of all the ways books entertain, challenge, and change us.’ It sounded quite lovely. The book is also sweetly dedicated to ‘everyone who’s ever finished a book under the covers with a flashlight when they were supposed to be sleeping’, which sums up my own childhood rather aptly.
I’d Rather Be Reading has been split up into a series of self-contained essays, some of which share common themes, and each of which explores an element of literature, or of reading. These sections range from ‘Confess Your Literary Sins’ and ‘Book Bossy’ to ‘The Books That Find You’ and ‘The Readers I Have Been’. Along with titles which she has loved – or which she has felt almost indifferent to – Bogel writes at length about the process of reading, and how much of a necessity it is in her life.
Bogel’s prose throughout is warm and conversational; it gives the same kind of cosy satisfaction as talking about recent reads with a good friend for hours does. ‘But avid readers know a great book doesn’t exist only in the realm of the material,’ she comments in her introduction. ‘The words between those covers bring whole worlds to life. When I think of the characters and stories and ideas contained on a single shelf of my personal library, it boggles my mind. To readers, these books – the ones we buy and borrow and trade and sell – are more than objects. They are opportunities beckoning us.’ She goes on to say that ‘we can’t know what a book will mean to us until we read it. And so we take a leap and choose.’
I would recommend keeping a notebook to hand whilst making your way through I’d Rather Be Reading. Whilst there are perhaps not as many recommendations to be found here as in other books about books, those which Bogel mentions are clearly very important to her, and I found a lot of titles of interest to seek out on my future library trips. The books which Bogel mentions are highly varied, ranging from the memoirs of a hostage negotiator (Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss) and L.M. Montgomery’s ‘darker and broodier’ Emily books, to a class reading of A Bridge to Terabithia which left ‘half of us sobbing and the other half futilely attempting to hide our tears’ and her first experience of reading The Great Gatsby as a sixteen-year-old: ‘Slightly put off by the strange title, surprising herself by not hating it, beginning to understand what a good writer could do with the written word…’.
I’d Rather Be Reading is a very personal account, but in some ways, it feels universal. Bogel writes at length about finding the perfect read at the perfect time, for instance, or using reading to divert yourself from the myriad of worries which the modern world holds. Bogel also writes of lasting encounters with books, which I’m sure every avid reader has experienced at one time or another; she writes: ‘Sometimes, of course, I seek out a book I need. But sometimes it’s more apt to say the book seeks me. I’ve learned books move in mysterious ways, and I’d do well to pay attention.’
I’d Rather Be Reading is a marvellously diverting book about the power of reading, which is lovely to settle down and spend some time with. Bogel’s reminiscences and comments are thoughtful, and often amusing. I personally loved the emphasis on borrowing books from the library, which is where I find the majority of tomes which I read. Every essay here is a relatable delight.