My Life With Bob – Pamela Paul

51AH2wluMeL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.

Publication Date: May 2nd, 2017

Page Count: 256 (Hardcover)

From the Jacket:

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 Reviewshares the stories that 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, from job to job, safely packed away and then carefully removed from apartment to house to its current perch on a shelf over her desk – 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 Highto Anna Karenina, from Catch-22 to Swimming to Cambodia, 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.

So many times while reading My Life With Bob I thought to myself, oh my god, she’s me! We are the same! Pamela Paul gets it. She really and truly understands what it means to have a passion so deep for the written word, that it shapes and defines your life.

I have loved reading for so long that I cannot remember a time before. It is just fundamentally who I am: a bookworm. I have always struggled to find other people who live and breath reading the way I do. Most of my friends growing up thought books were a boring waste of time. Every year without fail, I was the only person in my class who considered the annual Read-In (a day where we brought our sleeping bags, snacks, and books, and read ALL DAY) a day as exciting (if not more so) than Christmas. I mean really, what is more exciting than that? Not until I was almost 30 did I realize there is an entire online community of people I could share this love with. I was also incredibly lucky to find a fellow book lover to marry.

In My Life With Bob, Paul weaves the story of her life, incorporating all of the books that defined each period. The books that got her through adolescence, young adulthood, college, first love, first heartbreak, career choices, death and grief. She even touches on the struggle to find time for reading without guilt now that she is a mother. That’s something I struggle a lot with, and it was such a relief to know I’m not alone. She’s kept track of all of this in her Book of Books, or Bob, for short. This is such a fantastic idea that I wish I could go back in time and start one when I initially learned how to write. However, I’m a firm believer in, better late than never, so I started one after reading just a few pages of her book.

My very own Bob!

While reading, I found myself wanting to underline entire passages, and would have if not for the fact that the copy I was reading belonged to the library. I have since added it to my Amazon wish list so I can fulfill this desire in the future.

I’ve included many memorable passages from the book in the quotes section at the bottom of this post, but I also wanted to call out some of my favorites here. These sentiments spoke directly to my soul, and reflect what I’ve always felt to be true. None more so than this:

People like me open books and inhale the binding, favoring the scents of certain glues over others, breathing them in like incense even as the chemicals poison our brains. We consume them.

We in this latter group like to own books, 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 and reread. Throwing away or lending a book to an unreliable reader inevitably leads to regret. It is lovely to share books, but they need to come home. I have known many people to maintain years-long grudges over unreturned books. Who can blame them? (You with my Daniel Kahneman. You know who you are.)

But also:

It’s not exactly about escape. It’s about experiencing something I would otherwise never have the chance to experience. […] Books answer that persistent question, “What is that really like?” By putting you in the place of a character unlike yourself in a situation unlike your own, a good book forges a connection with the other. You get to know, in some way, someone you never would have otherwise known, to live some other life you yourself will never live.

You would think that as we age, tales of other people’s suffering wouldn’t tug at us so insistently. In fact, the opposite can be true. The triggers are more numerous and more readily accessed, the losses felt more acutely. When you read about an injured child or an ignored brother or an estranged parent, you can more easily intuit their pain. Nostalgia goes from being a light feeling of deja vu to something more primal and raw. The span of history constricts as decades-old horrors no longer seem quite so distant.

The book is full to bursting with beautiful passages like these.

Screen Shot 2017-07-09 at 12.00.01 PM.png

Final Thoughts: My Life With Bob is a love letter to books and the act of reading. It is a beautifully rendered memoir full of wisdom about how we change as we grow up, have experiences and learn about the world around us. Paul was so smart to think to keep a record of her reading, and she truly has a treasure. I really cannot recommend this one to my fellow book lovers enough. My only complaint was that it did not include more pictures of her Bob, but I totally understand her reasoning for that. Do any of you keep track of books this way?

Rating: Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 10.58.06 PM

Memorable Quotes:

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.

Well into adulthood, I would chastise myself over not settling on a hobby—knitting or yoga or swing dancing or crosswords—and just reading instead. The default position. Everyone else had a passion; where was mine? How much happier I would have been to know that reading was itself a passion. Nobody treated it that way, and it didn’t occur to me to think otherwise.

Books gnaw at me from around the edges of my life, demanding more time and attention. I am always left hungry.

Whenever one of us introduced an old favorite, we savored the other’s first delight like a shared meal eaten with a newly acquired gusto, as if we’d never truly tasted it before.

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