My Life with Bob – Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues
by Pamela Paul
I need to read more books about books, because the few that I’ve read, I’ve really enjoyed! Earlier this year I read Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, and loved it. I have holds on Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books and The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe. (I also have a hold on The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, but I’m not sure that quite counts.) And, in looking up the links for those books, I just put holds on three more books about reading, since this is a genre I apparently enjoy!
My Life with Bob is about the author’s reading life. Bob is a notebook she uses to keep track of what she’s read. Just title and author, and whether or not she’s finished it. Very simple. But in looking back through what she’s read, she recalls where she was, and what she was doing or going through at the time. So the real story is how her reading choices fit into her life, and how being a bookworm affected her life.
I enjoyed the book, with the slight irritation (in the latter part of the book) of her insistence on calling Young Adult literature, Children’s Lit. Children’s books are picture books and books for young readers, not The Fault in Our Stars and The Hunger Games. Those are Young Adult, and there’s a pretty big difference in my opinion. Maybe not in the professional world; she is the editor of The New York Times Book Review. But it’s frustrating to hear her talk about Kid Lit and lump Harry Potter in with a 36-page autobiography of a teddy bear written for kids under 10.
I was also a little shocked to learn (in the book!) she wrote a book about how porn is destroying the American family, and testified before Congress about it, sponsored by Senators Orrin Hatch and Sam Brownback. I normally don’t have a problem reading Republican authors – I often don’t know the exact political leanings of authors – but I’m reading about her reading choices, and suddenly they are all suspect. (She disliked Ayn Rand, at least, so that’s something.) The book was published in May of last year, so after the last presidential election. Anyone who acknowledges working with the GOP at this point, and isn’t embarrassed by it, immediately gets a black mark in my book.
So ultimately I’m torn on this book. I liked reading it. I dislike the author. (I will never even try to be non-political on this blog. Sorry-not-sorry.)
From the cover of My Life with Bob:
Imagine keeping a record of every book you’ve ever read. What would this reading trajectory say about you? With passion, humor, and insight, the editor of The New York Times Book Review shares how stories have shaped her life.
Pamela Paul has kept a single book by her side for twenty-eight years – carried throughout high school and college, hauled from Paris to London to Thailand and from job to job, safely packed away and then carefully moved from apartment to house to its current perch on a shelf over her desk. It is reliable if frayed, anonymous looking yet deeply personal. This book has a name: Bob.
Bob is Paul’s Book of Books, a journal that records every book she’s ever read, from Sweet Valley High to Anna Karenina, from Catch-22 to Swimming to Cambodia. It recounts a journey in reading that reflects her inner life – her fantasies and hopes, her mistakes and missteps, her dreams and her ideas, both half-baked and wholehearted. Her life, in turn, influences the books she chooses, whether for solace or escape, information or sheer entertainment.
But My Life with Bob isn’t really about those books. It’s about the deep and powerful relationship between book and reader. It’s about the way books provide each of us the perspective, courage, companionship, and imperfect self-knowledge to forge our own path. It’s about why we read what we read and how those choices make us who we are. It’s about how we make our own stories.