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My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book…

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues (2017)

by Pamela Paul

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Well now I have an even longer TBR list after reading this memoir. I'm actually planning on going through it again and making a note of every book referenced (I wish this had been done in the book itself, although since I had an ARC maybe it was in the published version). Everyone's life can be made better with books, and I think that Pamela Paul has done a wonderful job of showing the interweaving of various works and their effect on her life.
  celiafrances | Jan 4, 2018 |
A great read about the intersection of reading and life by a great reader. ( )
  Matt.Kay | Dec 9, 2017 |
"Books gnaw at me from around the edges of my life, demanding more time and attention. I am always left hungry." (191)

I enjoy a lot of books. I've said it before, and I'll likely say it again, but I can find something redeeming in almost every book.

But I don't say this often: this book spoke directly to my soul.

This book is for anyone who loves books. (Where my bibliophiles at?!) For anyone who has ever had to defend buying new books when they still have unread books on their shelves. For anyone who has ever stockpiled books, obsessively collecting and loath to purge, like a dragon defending its hoard. For anyone who has ever desperately tried to get a friend to read a book you love, and then sat on tenterhooks waiting anxiously for their response. For anyone who is admittedly a bit of a book snob. For anyone who grew up escaping into infinite worlds through pages and spines.

Pamela Paul is the Editor of the New York Times Book Review, and altogether manager of all things books over at the NYT. She also is a celebrated author, even before this book was released. But I didn't really care about any of those. Paul wrote this book about her Bob, which is what she calls her "Book of Books." When she was 17, she started keeping a "diary" of every book that she read, with a date (by month), the author, and the title. Plus a sort of rating system. [SIDE NOTE: I did something similar to this for...probably 10 years until I discovered Goodreads. It was much more simplistic - no date, only author and book title, but I carried that sheaf of loose-leaf pages as it grew in the back of my current journals for a decade.

Since the fall of 1988, for the majority of her life, Bob has been there with her. It has traveled with her. It has been through heartbreak and triumph and children being born with her. She uses the concept of the Bob, and her general love of reading, to write a memoir of her life. She addresses required reading, books that change your life, heroines (especially as a woman, heroines in books are infinitely important), the love for a book as analogous to the love for a person, making book recommendations (and what that really implies), about reading with her own children, tearjerkers (where she relates the death of her dad), and finally addresses the big question: Why read?

Why read is actually a question I ask myself often. I'm not quite sure how I got to be such a voracious reader. I do think it started with being read to and reading at an early age. But I also think that, after that "indoctrination" phase, I have been inclined toward reading for a number of reasons. The initial reason was to escape my often-less-than-ideal home life. It's the same reason I did theatre. To abscond into someone else's story, to get to experience being someone else for a time, helped me survive an incredibly trying period in my life.

That has morphed pretty seamlessly into this moment in my life where I still read to escape in a way, but for different reasons. I read to become more empathetic, to experience diversity from points of view I can't really get in other ways, to be informed, to be entertained, to be titillated. To enjoy the symbiotic relationship between a book and a reader. To retain the tradition of storytelling, passed down from the pre-history days of oral storytelling. To love a thing that may have existed for centuries before me, and that may exist for centuries after me; a thing that will endure much longer than many other earthly things.

There's not much more I can say other than what I've already said, and that, if you're a bibliophile, you MUST read this book. It will have you feeling so warm and tingly and nostalgic for the books you've loved. BUT I do want to share just a few quotes that were strikingly poignant for me personally:

We in this latter group like to own books, and, with our constant demands and high expectations, we're the worst—preferring some editions over others, having firm points of view on printings and cover designs. We're particular, and we're greedy. We want an unreasonable number of books and we don't like to throw them away. Some of us develop an almost hoardish fear around letting go of a book, even after it's been read an reread. (39)

This is every reader's catch-22: the more you read, the more you realize you haven't read; the more you yearn to read more, the more you understand that you have, in fact, read nothing. There is no way to finish, and perhaps that shouldn't be the goal. (40)

Bookish girls tend to mark phases of their lives by periods of intense character identification. (92) PREACH!

Whenever I travel, I try to pack at least three times as many books as can be expected to read, so as to always have on hand something that fits my mood at a given moment. I would load these books in my backpack, and then, unless they were truly disappointing, I would haul them back. (107) Though I was resistant to it at first, my Kindle has helped with this overpacking of books problem immensely...though I still pack probably two times as many books as I'll need...

In short, read this book. ( )
  jordan.lusink | Oct 5, 2017 |
Pamela Paul has been keeping a journal of every book she's read since junior high. In this memoir she uses that journal as a jumping off point for talking about parts of her life she was reminded of by entries in the journal. *shrug* On the face of it, this should be right up my street. I love books about books, I like bookish memoirs, I also have kept a journal of books I've read since childhood. But it didn't grab me. I never warmed to Paul, there's not enough about the actual books to please me, and I was hoping for the book journal to play a bigger, geekier part in the whole thing, I guess. YMMV. ( )
  lycomayflower | Sep 16, 2017 |
When Pamela Paul was a teen, she started a notebook she called her "book of books" or Bob in which she made note of all the books she read.

This is the starting point for Paul's memoir. She's an inveterate reader, lover of "best of" lists and classics. Reading was a way for her to learn and better herself, but eventually it becomes so much more. She uses a variety of aspects of reading, from not finishing a book to reading The Hunger Games to talk about her life, growing from a rather retiring teenager who just took every book at the most literal face value to a wife and mother, reader of children's lit and editor of the New York Times Book Review. I enjoyed some parts more than others, but it's always fascinating to get a book-shaped view of another person's life. ( )
  bell7 | Aug 22, 2017 |
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To my family of readers, and in memory of my father
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Like anyone else with a marriage and a home and children and family and work, and more work, I always have something to worry about.
I read to be transported.
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"Imagine keeping a record of every book you ever read. What would those titles say about you? With humor and warmth, the editor of The New York Times Book Review shares the stories that have shaped her life. For twenty-eight years, Pamela Paul has been keeping a diary that records the books she reads, rather than the life she leads. Or does it? Over time, it's become clear that this Book of Books, or Bob, as she calls him, tells a much bigger story. For Paul, as for many readers, books reflect her inner life-- her fantasies and hopes, her dreams and ideas. And her life, in turn, influences which books she chooses, whether for solace or escape, diversion or self-reflection, information or entertainment. My Life with Bob isn't about what's in those books; it's about the relationship between books and readers. Bob was with her when she struggled to get through the Norton Anthology of English Literature in college and when she read Anna Karenina while living abroad alone. He was there when she fell in love and much needed when she sought solace in self-help and memoirs like Autobiography of a Face. Through marriage and divorce, remarriage (The Master and Margarita) and parenthood (The Hunger Games), professional setbacks and successes, Bob recorded what she read while all that happened. The diary--now coffee-stained and frayed--is the record of a lifelong love affair with books, and has come to mean more to her than any other material possession. My Life with Bob is a testament to the power of books to provide the perspective, courage, companionship, and ultimately self-knowledge to forge our own path"--… (more)

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