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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 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 High to 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.
New York Times Book Review editor Paul (The Starter Marriage) takes the term bookworm to a new level in this unusual and intriguing memoir about intermingling her life with the books she's read. Since high school, Paul has entered every book she's read (beginning with Kafka's The Trial) in a battered journal she named Bob (Book of Books); continuing the habit in far-flung destinations in the 1980s and '90s (Cambodia, China, France, Thailand, Vietnam), she recorded the books that she took along with her. Unlike a diary of thoughts and events she'd like to forget, Bob contains info she wants to remember. Paul was a book-smart, unsociable child growing up on Long Island, the sole girl among seven brothers whose parents divorced when she was "three or four"; books were and remain her refuge, companions, and obsession. She worked at bookstore chain B. Dalton and then in marketing, and eventually landed a job at the New York Times Book Review. After the birth of her third child, she remained in the hospital an extra day to finish The Hunger Games, later finding breastfeeding to be a perfect opportunity for reading. Gazing back through Bob's pages, Paul is inspired to question why we read, how we read, what we read, and how reading helps us create our own narratives. Readers will be drawn to this witty and authentic tribute to the extraordinary power of books.