When it’s cold and rainy outside there is nothing better than curling up on the couch with a good book and a cup of tea*. Having seen While You Were Reading all over social media, I finally gave in and picked up a copy so I could do just that. While You Were Reading is writer duo Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus’s second book together after The Book Ninja.
There’s just something heart-warming about reading rom-coms in familiar settings. Seeing these conventional rom-com women in locations I could easily find myself in gives the story just that touch more authenticity than reading something set in another part of the world.
Beatrix Babbage is on the cusp of thirty and she’s just ruined her best friend’s wedding. It was an accident, but she’s ruined Cassandra’s life and now Cass won’t even speak to her. Feeling alone and wanting to give Cass space, Bea packs up her life and moves to Melbourne, an hour away from her sister who she gushes to about her new marketing job—isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. While struggling to come up with slogans for toothpaste and trying to move past the office misogyny, Bea befriends local barista Dino, whose strong skinny lattes and quotes bring light to her new life.
Alone and disconnected, Bea tries to branch out, going to slam poetry events and exploring Melbournian bookshops. In The Little Brunswick Street Bookstore Bea picks up a second-hand copy of Meeting Oliver Bennett, a book that can only be described as life changing. The book is filled with annotations from its previous owner and Bea quickly falls in love with them. Desperate to the find the writer, Bea creates an Instagram account to help her find them. But the quest is short-lived and Mystery Writer pops into her life as if it were fate. His name is Zach and he works as an editor for a local publishing house. Bea is a goner – how could such a perfect man exist? And better yet, find her? It’s almost too good to be true! And maybe it is.
As much as Bea fits your traditional romantic heroine stereotypes she also takes a step back, proving to herself and the reader that despite wanting love and affection she is her own person and needs both space and fulfilling relationships with others. I think the focus on the importance of surrounding yourself with good friends is a great lesson in this book. It can be so easy to go along with what someone else wants and never consider what you want.
While I love Ruth and Philip, Martha is one of my favourite characters. Both Bea and Martha are completely at ease with their toilet-stall relationship. Everyone, no matter the industry, needs someone to vent to at work – even better if you share similar interests like Bea and Martha with their love of Jane Austen. Later in the novel when Bea bumps into Martha again it seems the perfect time for their real friendship to kick off, not just as friends but as business associates. Martha teaching Bea how to run her accounts is a great example of women helping women, and each woman in this novel is autonomous and motivated by their own goals, whether their goals are business, sustainability, or revenge.
This is a book for every book-loving romantic, with literary allusions aplenty!
* Ideally your cup of tea should be of the never-ending variety and forever comfortably warm. If anyone finds said cup of tea, please let me know where I can get one.
Words by Kayla Gaskell