My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul

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

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 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...

Title:My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:1627796312
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:256 pages

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues Reviews

  • Laura

    is a book about books and the author's love of books. Any true bibliophile will see parts of them-self in these pages. It also serves to make any of us without our own Bob fill with envy, possibly enough to actually start while we still can. Bob is a notebook

    , editor of

    , started at age sixteen where she would record the title and author of every book she has ever read. Bob is short for "book of books." What ensues is more than just ab

    is a book about books and the author's love of books. Any true bibliophile will see parts of them-self in these pages. It also serves to make any of us without our own Bob fill with envy, possibly enough to actually start while we still can. Bob is a notebook

    , editor of

    , started at age sixteen where she would record the title and author of every book she has ever read. Bob is short for "book of books." What ensues is more than just about listing the books you've read.

    Through Bob, Pamela Paul is able to explore the person she was when she read each book. Each book holds memories and reminders of what was going on in her life at the time, who was in it, what she was feeling. This serves as a sort of psychological exploration of one's self through books. It is fascinating how the author noted her choices in books and how they change over time. She connects specific books to moments in her life tying the two together. It feels like Pamela Paul better understands herself because of her ability to look back through Bob.

    Each chapter is titled with a book in Bob. I do wish there was some of Bob available for us to explore, through pictures or just small excerpts, but I understand it's probably a very personal thing. So this book about life with Bob will have to do.

    I won this through goodreads in exchange for an honest review.

  • Rebecca Foster

    As a lifelong bibliophile, I value bibliomemoirs – and books about books generally – so much that I tend to hold them to higher standards. At the slightest hint of plot summary, filler or spoilers, I start knocking off stars and half-stars willy-nilly. (Two recent disappointments in this respect were

    by Will Schwalbe and

    by Suzanne Strempek Shea.) It’s all too easy for an author to concentrate on certain, often obscure books that mean a lot to him or her, dissecti

    As a lifelong bibliophile, I value bibliomemoirs – and books about books generally – so much that I tend to hold them to higher standards. At the slightest hint of plot summary, filler or spoilers, I start knocking off stars and half-stars willy-nilly. (Two recent disappointments in this respect were

    by Will Schwalbe and

    by Suzanne Strempek Shea.) It’s all too easy for an author to concentrate on certain, often obscure books that mean a lot to him or her, dissecting their plots without truly conveying a sense of the personal or potentially wider appeal. (Schwalbe is guilty of this, as is Maureen Corrigan in

    .) The trick is always to find the universal in the particular, and vice versa.

    Pamela Paul, editor of the

    , does this absolutely perfectly. In 1988, when she was a junior in high school, she started keeping track of her reading in a simple notebook she dubbed “Bob,” her Book of Books. In this memoir she delves into Bob to explain who she was at various points in time and how her reading both reflected and shaped her character. Yes, she discusses specific books, but the focus is unfailingly on their interplay with her life, such that each book mentioned more than earns its place. So whether she was hoarding castoffs from her bookstore job, obsessing about ticking off everything in the

    , despairing that she’d run out of reading material in a remote yurt in China, or fretting that her husband took a fundamentally different approach to Thomas Mann, Paul always looks beyond the books themselves to interrogate what they say about her.

    I had a couple of favorite moments – “Les Prunes de Fureur,” a verbal gaffe from her study abroad year in France; and an excellent takedown of Ayn Rand’s

    – but I suspect each reader will find their own incidents and passages to love. This is the sort of book I wish I had written, not least because Paul explains more precisely and succinctly than I can why I’m drawn to depressing books, how I use reading to understand experiences I may never have, and why books we read while traveling take on special relevance in our minds.

    If you have even the slightest fondness for books about books, you won’t want to miss this one when it comes out on May 2nd. I’ve found a new favorite bibliomemoir, and an early entry on the Best of 2017 list.

    by John Carey,

    by Samantha Ellis (closest in structure to this one), and

    by Rebecca Mead.

  • Julie Ehlers

    I expected to like this a lot more than I did. Pamela Paul and I have a couple things in common: We're the same age, and, more crucially, as teenagers we both started keeping a book full of lists of the books we'd read, and we both feel that looking back at this book can tell us some things about how our life has gone. I really thought I'd identify with this memoir, and I certainly thought I'd enjoy reading it. But ultimately, I just thought

    wasn't very well done. For one thing,

    I expected to like this a lot more than I did. Pamela Paul and I have a couple things in common: We're the same age, and, more crucially, as teenagers we both started keeping a book full of lists of the books we'd read, and we both feel that looking back at this book can tell us some things about how our life has gone. I really thought I'd identify with this memoir, and I certainly thought I'd enjoy reading it. But ultimately, I just thought

    wasn't very well done. For one thing, Paul isn't very good at writing other characters besides herself—I thought they all seemed faceless, not vivid at all. For another thing, the actual role of her Book of Books (aka Bob) in this book is often quite small, causing

    to come off as mostly just a regular old memoir.

    So if the book isn't really about the people in Paul's life and it's not really about Bob, then what is it about? Well, it's about Paul herself, obviously, but even then it kind of falls down on the job. Paul is so vague about so much of her life, refusing to dive very far beneath the surface. How did her parents' divorce affect her, for instance? She's strangely close-lipped about the emotions involved. How did she really feel about the hunger strike she went on as a young woman? She just kind of makes jokes about it, which was weird and uncomfortable. She talks quite a bit about having fundamental disagreements with one of her long-term romantic partners, but shies away from saying what these disagreements were—I got the sense that he was politically conservative and Paul was liberal, but she seems afraid to tell the reader that. Why, exactly? Paul also makes a point to talk about a prophecy she received regarding her love life, but when it actually seems to come true she has very little to say about it—which makes me wonder why she brought it up in the first place.

    Paul is now in the stage where she's a middle-aged mom raising her kids, so quite a few pages are spent talking about how she can't read as much anymore because her kids take up so much time and she rarely has a minute to herself and... ZZZZZ. Oops, sorry, I nodded off there for a minute. Parents, I know you have no time for anything else because you're so busy raising your kids. Please know that the rest of us find this very boring to read about. Don't include it in your memoir if you can help it. Thanks for your cooperation.

    In the end, I think Paul tried too hard to tie books to the "big moments" of her life, and it just didn't really work. As Peter Orner's

    reveals much more effectively, our reading is mostly tied to the smaller, quieter moments in life. Little epiphanies, not major life changes. Anything else comes off as inauthentic. This, combined with Paul's unwillingness to dig any deeper, results in a blandly pleasant memoir that now occupies an exceedingly minor position in my own decades-old book of books.

  • Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I approach books on books with a fair dose of cynicism. Will another person claim to love Proust and turn me away from ever identifying with them as a reader?

    Pamela Paul is so without bookish snobbery that you would probably never guess that she is the editor of the New York Times Book Review. I had not connected all the dots until I was 95% into this book. She also hosts the podcast of the same name, one I just subscribed to yesterday but haven't tried yet (another one of those reading synergie

    I approach books on books with a fair dose of cynicism. Will another person claim to love Proust and turn me away from ever identifying with them as a reader?

    Pamela Paul is so without bookish snobbery that you would probably never guess that she is the editor of the New York Times Book Review. I had not connected all the dots until I was 95% into this book. She also hosts the podcast of the same name, one I just subscribed to yesterday but haven't tried yet (another one of those reading synergies I should expect by now.)

    I enjoyed her discussion of how the books we read link to moments in our lives. She has kept track of the books she reads in her "Book of Books," aka Bob, the reason for the title, for decades. I loved hearing about this book and while I understand why she does not share it with the readers, I was shocked not to find at least a few pages to peruse. The book is really more about her life in books, a story I can appreciate, but I wish they had woven it into the book more. I wanted to see what kinds of things she writes, how it changes, etc. And oh how I wish I had kept track so long (I started in 2003.)

    I also liked the chapters on how reading enters relationships, what we think of others based on the books they do (or don't) read, and then what they think about them. At the same time, she points out that she often reads books she does not agree with in order to better formulate her opinion, to stay in dialogue with the author's ideas, so I don't think she is jumping to conclusions just based on the books a person has on their shelves.

    She details her sojourn into mothering and her unabashed love for children's literature, and this is where I think I most respected her focus. She is unafraid to talk about the books that touch her, those that made her cry despite herself, etc. And then there is the book that is the title of the last chapter, one of my favorite books that I've given as a gift. I appreciated her perspective and openness. I'm sure the NYT Book Review must benefit from it too, and it makes me want to pay more attention to that publication.

  • Diane S ☔

    4.5 Book about books, like many of us I am sure, find it impossible to pass them by. Have read several, with varying degrees of success, this is one of the best. All the feels are there, the unique smell of individual books, the wonder of first opening the cover, feel of the pages, in essence love for all things bookish. A true book love this author has and describes so wonderfuly. Her youth where her family had little money to spend on books, her love of her local library and growing up reading

    4.5 Book about books, like many of us I am sure, find it impossible to pass them by. Have read several, with varying degrees of success, this is one of the best. All the feels are there, the unique smell of individual books, the wonder of first opening the cover, feel of the pages, in essence love for all things bookish. A true book love this author has and describes so wonderfuly. Her youth where her family had little money to spend on books, her love of her local library and growing up reading. Her trips to other countries, the books she read in various places and why. Her house piled away with more books than she can ever read but as necessary to her as air. Sounds just like mine. The way she bases her relationships with men on their love of certain books, is their reading compatible? Agreed to marry my husband after he bought, read and loved The French Luetenents Women, a favorite of mine.

    This author is the editor of the New York times review and her voice is so authentic and knowledgeable. Down to earth, filled with humor and honesty. Loved every minute of this book but the downside of reading books about books is that one ends up adding more books to their already overflowing lists. A small price to pay. Simply wonderful.

  • Vanessa

    These are the types of books I thrive off. A real person talking about their real obsession of reading, of inhaling the essence of a book. The inane need to be surrounded by books at all times physically as well as in every other sense. As a fellow book enthusiast I wish I had my own book of BOB. Pre goodreads days there's no way to recall and catalogue all I've read although now in hindsight a lot of my earlier selections might embarrass me. I started reading early and devoured books like it wa

    These are the types of books I thrive off. A real person talking about their real obsession of reading, of inhaling the essence of a book. The inane need to be surrounded by books at all times physically as well as in every other sense. As a fellow book enthusiast I wish I had my own book of BOB. Pre goodreads days there's no way to recall and catalogue all I've read although now in hindsight a lot of my earlier selections might embarrass me. I started reading early and devoured books like it was a religion, a fervour of epic proportions, and then life got in the way. Time passed and books were left unread. If I regret anything it's that. I still read non stop if you count magazines as reading (I don't) I call those years the "dark years". When I picked up reading again, it was like manna descended from heaven. I found myself again. Anyone with a healthy or (unhealthy) obsession with books will completely relate with this book and author. I enjoyed reading about her reading. My need to read is equally shared and I feel utterly vindicated with my obsessive nature towards books. I regret nothing. Thanks Pamela Paul for giving me permission to own it. Shame free.

  • Natalie

    I was ecstatic when I found about this book of books. Similar to the author's tendency to track every book she’s rea

    I was ecstatic when I found about this book of books. Similar to the author's tendency to track every book she’s read over the past 28 years, I've been doing the same - granted, for a different length of time - with the subtle addition of writing down the exact time I finished the last page. Looking back, I realize I never really gave it a second thought when I started writing down the books I read, because similar to what Pamela Paul said: 

    But what appealed to me in particular with

    was the exploration of this next idea talked about in the paragraph below:

    What I didn't anticipate going into this was the memoir-type style of this book, where the author would talk extensively about her own life while focusing on her love for books in the background. But since I love memoirs with a passion, I was more than welcome of this addition. We follow Pamela Paul from her childhood growing up with seven brothers, to her trying to seal a job as a librarian at the ripe age of ten (

    ), discussing her love for literary heroines, traveling across Asia and Europe fresh out of college (which read a bit like a backpacking travelogue), her journey on becoming a writer and what that meant for her, and moving onto to the present day working as an editor of the 

    ,

    all the while weaving themes of romance, disappointment, marriage, and motherhood into the overall arc.

    Also, so many sentiments shared in this book really resonated for me. Like this irrational feeling of jealousy being perfectly captured:

    I’ve said these exact words before, so reading someone else expressing the same notion was pivotal. 

    This was that.

    Plus, I felt like I had so much to say with every turning page. The ideas presented and analyzed in

    provided me with 

    However, the second half of the book did drag a bit while reading about her fights with her ex-husband over books... It wasn't exactly what I'd signed up for. I personally preferred reading more about her formative years than the mess of her past relationship.

    When the narrative moved on from that point, I breathed a sigh of relief. In particular when the focus shifted on a cherished notion of mine: making your loved ones read your favorite books

    I wholeheartedly get the dad in this scenario.

    Another thing I loved about

     was the unexpected laugh-out-loud funny scenes, like this confession from the author on why she stayed an extra day in the hospital after giving birth to her third child:

    Iconic.

    All in all: this being my first nonfiction read purely about books completely satisfied my immediate and all-consuming bookish heart.

    ,

  • Chris

    Today well over half of my books are now sold in digital editions.

    And yet as a culture we still have a totemic connection to books made of paper.

    I can look around in the library in which I write, glance at the book spines on the shelves, and tell you precisely where I was when read so many of them. Henry Roth's "Call It Sleep" is the snack bar at Smith College, where my wife went to school when we were boyfriend and girlfriend, and the smell of the onions the cooks there placed on the hamburger

    Today well over half of my books are now sold in digital editions.

    And yet as a culture we still have a totemic connection to books made of paper.

    I can look around in the library in which I write, glance at the book spines on the shelves, and tell you precisely where I was when read so many of them. Henry Roth's "Call It Sleep" is the snack bar at Smith College, where my wife went to school when we were boyfriend and girlfriend, and the smell of the onions the cooks there placed on the hamburgers. Patrick Dennis's rollicking tale of one Manhattan family's spectacularly dysfunctional Christmas, "The Joyous Season," is my living room in the middle of the night and my four week old daughter is -- finally -- asleep in my arms.

    Books remind us both where we were -- and who we were -- when we read them.

    Pamela Paul's deeply honest and profoundly beautiful meditation on her life with books captures this connection in ways that are wonderful and wise and moving. It's an autobiography presented through the books she was reading as she grew up, fell in (and out of) love, and watched parents age and die.

    But always there are the stories that fed her soul.

    I loved this memoir. Anyone who loves books -- books because of the words and books because of their Proustian madeleines of memory -- will love it, too.

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