Title: While You Were Reading
Author: Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: July 2019
Synopsis: 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 along the way, she 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.
Another offering from Book Ninjas, Ali and Michelle, While You Were Reading is another love letter to readers, books and the friendships forged through a love of reading. Beatrix Babbage is at her best friend’s wedding when everything in her life falls apart. She inadvertently ruins the wedding and is cut off from her friends. So, she moves to Melbourne to start over, and gets a job with a marketing agency, and befriends a poet-barista called Dino, his business partner, Sunday, and Mystery Writer, whose inscriptions in a book called Meeting Oliver Bennett guide her through her time in Melbourne. Yet her life stagnates, and her only regular contact is with Dino, her books, and her cleaner, Ramona, and the girls at the bookstore at the centre of Ali and Michelle’s previous book, The Book Ninja (there’s no need to read them in order, as they are both stand alones – more on this later.)
As the book moves on, Bea takes herself on a journey to discover who the Mystery Writer is, charting this online as Frankie did in The Book Ninja, and some of our favourite commenters pop up in her mentions, providing another delightful link back to The Book Ninja. Yet a chance meeting with Zach, another with Ruth and her unfolding friendship with Sunday, see her embroiled in a love quadrangle – with various people and books, as well as her constant attempts to reach out to her friend from Perth, Cassandra with disastrous results at one of her Next Chapter nights.
With Next Chapter – speed dating for books – Bea hopes to find Mystery Writer and connect with other readers – but her sister, Lizzie, an ex-Bachelor contestant, has other ideas that involve dating, romance and things Bea would rather not conflate her idea with.
The journey Bea takes has its ups and downs with people, work and books – leading to a fantastic result towards the end that gives her an amazing drive, and gives her much more to search for than romance. Instead, she makes friends with a group of people she least expected – of these, I think Mia was my favourite. followed closely by Sunday, because she followed her passions.
While You Were Reading is a cleverly written rom- com – the kind that is as much an ode to romantic love as it is an ode to friendship, knowing and loving yourself, and most importantly, for me, a love of books and the written word. It is driven by the marginalia of Meeting Oliver Bennett, leading to an author and connection that came as a complete surprise to me – and even though this is a well-used trope, the way it is executed is original and ensures the mystery is kept up to the final pages.
It is filled with bookish and popular culture references that I appreciated, and I love that the title refers to a certain movie starring Sandra Bullock from the nineties. Having a book where I can relate to the character, and where many of the references are at my fingertips, is wonderful, and I loved that the list of books mentioned is given at the back – many of which I have read and have on my shelves.
I adored that it referred back to The Book Ninja, and in a way, follows on several months after the end of that book. However, as it is a passing mention, it is not necessary to read that one first, but it is fun to be able to pick up on the references and nods to that book, and the way both books use narrative (mainly) interspersed with blog or Instagram posts and messages, and notes. Because these are interspersed with the prose, they enrich the story and are given context and cues to help the reader navigate the story.
Books about books are something I love – most books with a hobby or something people enjoy tend to be about sport – so for book lovers like me, this is refreshing because it allows us to see what we enjoy celebrated, and I look forward to more from these authors.