I have always had a soft spot for novels that use a variety of formats to tell their story. When You Read This by Mary Adkins, is one such novel, with the narrative divided between emails and blog posts. I read this novel just before the COVID-19 outbreak, back in the days when life was normal and busy, and there wasn’t a tonne of time for reading unless you really made it happen. Nonetheless, I absorbed this novel in a blink. A job and two kids, but still a three day read. It’s good, simple, light fare and most importantly (and in spite of what I’m going to tell you next), it will make you laugh.
The book centers around the death of Iris Massey, who has died of cancer at thirty-three. Yes, I know that sounds crazy bleak and although there is plenty of sadness to this story, there is also an abundance of good natured humor. More levity than anything else, in fact, despite never straying too far from Iris. Iris worked for a likeable PR guru, named Smith Simonyi. Smith is a flawed man with a compulsive online gambling habit, but a heart of gold. When it comes to Iris’s dying wish, namely that he finds a publisher to turn her blog posts into a book, Smith really wants to do the right thing. With the help of his hilariously inept assistant, Carl, Smith sets about making this happen. His first and most challenging task is to get the approval of Iris’ sister Jade, who is so caught up in her own grief that she finds herself largely unable to function.
When You Read This is a truly beguiling mix of the reality of dying young and the humor that life can throw at you amidst incredible sadness. I’m not for one second going to claim that this is a book that will stay with me for a long time, but if you want a quick distraction from the madness in the world, this could be just the trick.