My Life with Bob
When she was sixteen years old, Pamela Paul opened to the first page of a notebook and began recording the title and author of every book she read during the summer. She continued doing so as autumn turned to winter, as high school turned to college, as her life took her through romance, disappointment, marriage, and motherhood, and as she rose in her career to the editorship of The New York Times Book Review. The once-new notebook—now mottled, coffee-stained, and frayed at the corners—is the record of her lifelong love affair with books, and it has come to mean more to her than any other material possession. She has even given it a name: Bob, for “Book of Books."Pamela Paul’s life with Bob is a life that many of us will recognize, a life in which books play a much more meaningful role than simply imparting information or entertaining us with compelling stories. When she opens Bob to any page, the titles and authors listed there serve as touchstones to remember the people, places, and emotions of her past – not only what she was reading but where she was and the person she was at the time. It makes a difference that she read The Trial while on a youth program in France, The Hunger Games in the maternity ward, and Swimming to Cambodia in Cambodia, and she reflects on how her life’s journey has been shaped and redirected by the books and authors who spoke to her at that time.Not merely a chronicle of reading, My Life with Bob is also a testament to the power of books to provide the perspective, courage, companionship, and ultimately the self-knowledge to forge our own path and get where we want to go.

My Life with Bob Details

TitleMy Life with Bob
Author
FormatHardcover
ReleaseMay 2nd, 2017
PublisherHenry Holt and Co.
ISBN1627796312
ISBN-139781627796316
Number of pages256 pages
Rating
GenreWriting, Books About Books, Autobiography, Memoir, Nonfiction, Biography, Biography Memoir

My Life with Bob Review

  • Laura
    January 12, 2017
    My Life with Bob 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 Pamela Paul, editor of The New York Times Book Review, 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 My Life with Bob 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 Pamela Paul, editor of The New York Times Book Review, 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.
    more
  • Rebecca Foster
    March 27, 2017
    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 Books for Living by Will Schwalbe and Shelf Life 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 Books for Living by Will Schwalbe and Shelf Life 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 Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading.) The trick is always to find the universal in the particular, and vice versa.Pamela Paul, editor of the New York Times Book Review, 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 Norton Anthology, 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 The Fountainhead – 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.Other recommended bibliomemoirs: The Unexpected Professor by John Carey, How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis (closest in structure to this one), and My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead.
    more
  • Jenny (Reading Envy)
    March 12, 2017
    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.Thanks to the publisher for granting me access to the eARC through Edelweiss.
    more
  • Sam Sattler
    March 2, 2017
    It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a great while a book comes along that seems to have been written just for you. It may be a book about some obscure hobby of yours that you figured no one else in the world cared about, or about some equally obscure figure from the past you imagined no one remembered (much less actually cared about) but you. And in the unlikeliest of all cases, it might be a book - imagine it now, a whole book - about some weird habit of yours that you seldom speak of in It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a great while a book comes along that seems to have been written just for you. It may be a book about some obscure hobby of yours that you figured no one else in the world cared about, or about some equally obscure figure from the past you imagined no one remembered (much less actually cared about) but you. And in the unlikeliest of all cases, it might be a book - imagine it now, a whole book - about some weird habit of yours that you seldom speak of in public. It is exactly that last possibility that happened to me with Pamela Paul’s My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues. Who knew there was another person in the world maintaining a decades-old list of every book they ever read?Paul, editor of the New York Times Book Review, began keeping her Book of Books (the “Bob” referenced in this memoir’s title) in 1988 when she was just a high school junior. (As a point of reference, I began my own “Bob” in 1970, a few months before I turned twenty-one.) Paul describes Bob as “factory-made, gray and plain, with a charcoal binding and white unlined paper, an inelegant relic from the days before bookstores stocked Moleskine notebooks,” exactly the kind of non-descript little book, I suspect, guaranteed to remain forever safe from the prying eyes of outsiders. In twenty-two chapters, each chapter carrying the title of one of the books listed in Bob, Paul exhibits just how precisely she is able to reconstruct segments of her past by studying Bob’s pages. Each of the books chosen for chapters of their own remind the author of where she was both “psychologically and geographically” when she first read them. By studying the list to see which books she read before and after the highlighted title, Paul can easily see whether the earlier books put her in the mood for more of the same or pushed her toward reading something very different. Too, if her reading choices moved in a new direction, she can quickly determine how long that new interest or trend lasted. And she confirmed something concerning one’s memory about which most avid readers will readily agree: Keeping a list of fiction read does very little to solidify the recall of characters or plot details – what it does do is provide a better understanding of changes in one’s own “character.” My Life with Bob is an intimate look into the life of a woman who has made books and reading the central core of her life. She has had many roles during her life: student, daughter, wife, mother, etc., but I suspect that she takes equal joy in knowing that reader is an essential term others would use to describe who she is – and always has been. Readers are a curious lot, and one of the things we are most curious about is what others are reading. We cannot resist browsing the bookshelves of those whose homes we visit, often altering our opinions (either upwardly or downwardly) about those being visited according to what we see on their shelves. We find ourselves straining to read the titles of books on shelves sitting behind pictures of celebrities and politicians because we know that people are more likely to reveal their true nature and level of curiosity by what they choose to display on their private bookshelves than by what comes out of their mouths. We can’t help ourselves; that’s the way we are.If you are one of those people, you are going to love My Life with Bob because Pamela Paul is a kindred spirit who gets it.
    more
  • Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
    April 8, 2017
    This is my favorite kind of book: a book-about-books.This is my favorite kind of author: a Reader. (Capital letter intended). What is not to love?
  • Sam
    March 12, 2017
    Review forthcoming.
  • Biblio Files
    March 28, 2017
    This one snuck up on me -- I expected to like it, and I did, but when I finished it, I put it down and went on to the next book. By the time I got around to writing up a review, I wanted to revisit a few parts of the book. I ended up rereading the entire book, only two weeks after I had finished it. I rarely reread books, even classics, because there are just so many new books to get to. So how could I justify spending valuable book time rereading a bookish memoir? I didn't justify it, it just h This one snuck up on me -- I expected to like it, and I did, but when I finished it, I put it down and went on to the next book. By the time I got around to writing up a review, I wanted to revisit a few parts of the book. I ended up rereading the entire book, only two weeks after I had finished it. I rarely reread books, even classics, because there are just so many new books to get to. So how could I justify spending valuable book time rereading a bookish memoir? I didn't justify it, it just happened.Pamela Paul is either very modest or very lucky, because the job of children's editor at The New York Times seems to have dropped in her lap, followed by the job of Book Editor at the NYT. But that doesn't figure into My Life With Bob very much -- rather, this is a memoir of her life with books as a backdrop. The books she was reading at various points in her life serve to sometimes amplify, or provide counterpoint, or sometimes distract. They are just there, as much a part of her life as the people and places.This is an excellent addition to the genre of books about reading that includes Will Schwalbe's Books for Living, Phyllis Rose's The Shelf, and Andy Miller's The Year of Reading Dangerously, as well as the shorter The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri and I Murdered My Library by Linda Grant.(Thanks to NetGalley and Henry Holt & Company for a digital review copy.)
    more
  • Anbolyn
    April 13, 2017
    It's always fascinating and satisfying to read a book about someone's reading life (who you know loves books as much as you do) and this is no exception. Paul uses books to highlight the turning points in her life (adolescence, job search, marriage, child rearing) and how they helped her make decisions and cope with the vicissitudes of living. She is endearing, charming and a great companion.
    more
  • Sue Fernandez
    February 28, 2017
    Thank you to NetGalley and Henry Holt and Company for an e-Arc of this title in exchange for an honest review. I'm a reader, and goodness...I wish I'd thought to do something like this. BOB is the author's "Book of Books," that she's read. I thought this would be a listing of books and how they made her feel, but I loved that she wrote essays that tied the books and her life together. It was witty, touching and again...I WISH I'd done this when I was young!
    more
  • Debra Pawlak
    April 10, 2017
    I received an advance reading copy of this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review. I was disappointed in the way the book was promoted. The write-up indicated that this book would explain why readers pick the books they pick. I thought this was rather intriguing as I am a writer, as well as a dedicated reader. Instead, I found the author rambled on about her choice of books during various stages of her life. It just sounded like a series of blogs put together in book form. On the oth I received an advance reading copy of this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review. I was disappointed in the way the book was promoted. The write-up indicated that this book would explain why readers pick the books they pick. I thought this was rather intriguing as I am a writer, as well as a dedicated reader. Instead, I found the author rambled on about her choice of books during various stages of her life. It just sounded like a series of blogs put together in book form. On the other hand, it did make me think hard about the books I have read in the past including those I picked up in grade school and high school--books I hadn't thought about in a long time. As to why people pick the types of books they do--that remains a mystery. If you liked 'Eat, Pray, Love' (I did not) or 'Wild' (I didn't read), than maybe you might enjoy this one. People roaming around searching for themselves just isn't my cup of tea. Sorry!
    more
  • Mara
    April 27, 2017
    Dear Pamela Paul,Please come and live with me and be my literary big sister.I am,Yours devotedly in reading.No, for real. Every reader must read this book. Pamela's descriptions of the joys (and sorrows) of reading are beautiful. She is exquisitely thoughtful in connecting the books she records in Bob (her Book of Books, in which she lists everything she's read since age 17) to her life, or to her reflections of the life she was living at the time she read a particular book. She also discusses m Dear Pamela Paul,Please come and live with me and be my literary big sister.I am,Yours devotedly in reading.No, for real. Every reader must read this book. Pamela's descriptions of the joys (and sorrows) of reading are beautiful. She is exquisitely thoughtful in connecting the books she records in Bob (her Book of Books, in which she lists everything she's read since age 17) to her life, or to her reflections of the life she was living at the time she read a particular book. She also discusses many of her travels, giving them equally thoughtful and literary treatment. Seriously, this is the book about reading that I wish I could have written.
    more
  • Sarah
    May 1, 2017
    What a wonderfully enjoyable book. I relate so much to Ms. Paul's thoughts about reading, cataloging books, sharing recommendations, and choosing which to read next. There were long passages I read incredulously; it was like they came from my own brain. I, too, keep a running log of all my books, though it has morphed over time from a handwritten journal to Goodreads. It is both a record that prevents me from reading books twice by accident (d'oh!)... and, more importantly, allows me to look bac What a wonderfully enjoyable book. I relate so much to Ms. Paul's thoughts about reading, cataloging books, sharing recommendations, and choosing which to read next. There were long passages I read incredulously; it was like they came from my own brain. I, too, keep a running log of all my books, though it has morphed over time from a handwritten journal to Goodreads. It is both a record that prevents me from reading books twice by accident (d'oh!)... and, more importantly, allows me to look back on past reading endeavors. It is a virtual list treasured by me as Pamela's Bob is by her.I should read more books about books, providing I can find more as well-written as this.I received a review copy from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
    more
  • Janilyn Kocher
    April 24, 2017
    I adored My Life with Bob. I easily identified with the author about her reading habits and the books she read as a child that she could be my twin. It's so enjoyable to read about a fellow reader who gets the fascination with books. Pamela Paul keeps a list of books she has read, her Book of Books. I keep a list as well, although on the computer and through Goodreads. So many books, not enough time.
    more
  • Lissa
    April 24, 2017
    4.5 stars.
  • Monica Edinger
    February 22, 2017
    I'd first learned of Pamela's (whom I know through my reviewing and such for the New York Times) Book of Books in a New York Times piece and immediately was inspired to have my 4th grade students start something different. And so, for the past two years, we've had a weekly BoB period where they update their books, read, and chat with me about what they've been reading. It has been wonderful and they love it. And so I was excited to finally read Pamela's book on her BoB. And how fine it is --- a I'd first learned of Pamela's (whom I know through my reviewing and such for the New York Times) Book of Books in a New York Times piece and immediately was inspired to have my 4th grade students start something different. And so, for the past two years, we've had a weekly BoB period where they update their books, read, and chat with me about what they've been reading. It has been wonderful and they love it. And so I was excited to finally read Pamela's book on her BoB. And how fine it is --- a lovely unique memoir with books filtered throughout.
    more
  • Anmiryam
    May 4, 2017
    I am too tired to do this delightful book justice at the moment, but, if like me, you have defined yourself as a reader throughout your life I can't imagine you won't love seeing at least some of yourself in this book. So go read this book about reading books and be happy you are not alone.
    more
  • Ankita Chauhan
    May 6, 2017
    Unputdownable.
  • Sarah
    March 16, 2017
    This is a memoir told through the books the author has read, all recorded in her Book of Books, aka Bob. My life has not been much like hers, and aside from children's books we've read almost none of the same things, but I could relate to her love of books and reading. And it was interesting to read about all of her experiences that were so different from my own.I received an ARC from NetGalley.
    more
  • Melissa
    April 29, 2017
    "Books wherein an author talks about how much they love books and what they read" is a particular genre kryptonite of mine. Paul's book was a little more memoir that I had anticipated - I was expecting more "this is what I read" - but it's a well-written set of personal essays about a life-long love of reading, chronicles by her Bob (Book of Books) that she started while on a study program in France during high school. As someone who only started a book journal once finished with grad school and "Books wherein an author talks about how much they love books and what they read" is a particular genre kryptonite of mine. Paul's book was a little more memoir that I had anticipated - I was expecting more "this is what I read" - but it's a well-written set of personal essays about a life-long love of reading, chronicles by her Bob (Book of Books) that she started while on a study program in France during high school. As someone who only started a book journal once finished with grad school and free once-again to start reading voraciously I found this particularly appealing.
    more
  • Angela
    April 26, 2017
    A nice read about the life-long impact of reading. Bibliophiles will be nodding along as the author elucidates how and why books have such importance in the lives of readers. I thinking I was expecting (and hoping for?) more focus on the texts and less memoir-type content, but if you're looking for more of a literary memoir than for recommendations, this is the book for you!Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC. This is my honest review.
    more
  • Jen
    April 23, 2017
    3.5! why haven't I ever thought to have my own Bob?!
  • Jill
    April 10, 2017
    Bibliotherapy or bibliomania? That seems to be the question that the author wishes to answer for herself within the pages of this delightfully deceptive and engagingly written book about reading and the life of the mind. “Bob,” you will understand, is not about a “Robert;” in fact, it’s not about a person at all. Rather, “Bob” is actually “BOB,” an acronym that Paul has created that stands for “Book of Books,” her personal ledger in which she dutifully records dates, titles and authors of litera Bibliotherapy or bibliomania? That seems to be the question that the author wishes to answer for herself within the pages of this delightfully deceptive and engagingly written book about reading and the life of the mind. “Bob,” you will understand, is not about a “Robert;” in fact, it’s not about a person at all. Rather, “Bob” is actually “BOB,” an acronym that Paul has created that stands for “Book of Books,” her personal ledger in which she dutifully records dates, titles and authors of literary works that she has tackled – not always successfully – throughout her checkered past. Begun during the summer of 1988, and added to continuously since then, Bob is really just a frame upon which Paul stretches the pelt of her story, which includes elements of memoir, travelogue, soap opera and bildungsroman. One salient feature of her writing is a brutal honesty; another is a gift for description that gives the reader a “you are there” sensation. Remembering a shy and lonely childhood (Paul was the only girl among seven male siblings), she relates that, “Whenever my brothers were paired off into bedrooms, I felt banished; I could hear them whispering among themselves through thin walls. At any moment, one of them might wrestle me to the ground, pin me down, and let a gob of saliva dangle threateningly over my face.” For Paul, reading during those early years represented an escape hatch, a portal by which she could enter another world, or as poet Emily Dickenson wrote: “There is no frigate like a book/to take us lands away.” Later, the author read for enlightenment as well as entertainment, but by her own admission, her passion for the written word could border on obsession, as detailed in this passage: “Some people are perfectly content with just the reading of books…I am one of the other sort…My sort wants the book in its entirety. We need to touch it, to examine the weight of its paper and the way the text is laid out on the page. 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.” Geez, Louise, show some enthusiasm, why don’t you? Although the real story here is the experiences of the author, Paul expertly weaves the disparate threads of work, family, travel, and human relationships into a telling tapestry that continually references the books that have informed and influenced her decisions. These titles, of course, are duly registered in her book of books, which becomes a metaphorical mirror, reflecting the image of a searching soul. Quoting from A Journey of One’s Own by Thalia Zepatos, Paul decides to abandon (for a time), the mind-numbing world of cube farms and corporate stooges. Concluding that the bigger the risk, the bigger the rewards, she sets off for Thailand, with no knowledge of the language, landscape or customs of that country, other than what was relayed in a Lonely Planet guidebook. “Maybe instead of just reading about other women’s stories, I could become a person worthy of my own,” Paul writes. One troubling note in all this is that Paul seems to only superficially engage with the books that she reads. Bob contains only titles and authors; there are no annotations regarding what she thought of the work itself, or how she interpreted its meaning. Also left unsaid is how she manages to read so much in a given period of time. Did Paul ever take Evelyn Wood’s speed reading course? To this reviewer, it appears to be a case of quantity over quality. However, in all fairness to Paul, in a chapter sub-titled, “Why Read?,” she digs for a deeper understanding of her own motivations and involvement with ink and paper: “It’s about experiencing something I would otherwise never have the chance to experience. To know what it’s like to be a merchant marine in the South Pacific precisely because I never will be a merchant marine in the South Pacific…Books answer that persistent question ‘But 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.” Everyone likes, perhaps even needs, a happy ending. Despite some stumbles, such as a first marriage that lasted barely a year, Paul eventually finds true love, has children and, after the requisite ink-stained-wretch period of overworked and underpaid writing jobs, is hired as editor of the New York Times Book Review. This is about as close to “having it all” as it gets, to be reader, writer, mother, wife. Flipping through the pages of Bob, and reflecting on where she has been and where she is now, Paul concludes her tale by stating, “My clues are all here, on these pages. On the pages of my Book of Books…Even if we don’t keep a physical Books of Books, we all hold our books somewhere inside of us and live by them. They become our stories.” Well said, from one exceedingly well read. This thought provoking and passionate paean to the world of the written word is highly recommended to all those who agree with William Ellery Channing, who said that “It is chiefly through books that we enjoy intercourse with superior minds. In the best books, [great intellects] talk to us, give us their most precious thoughts, and pour their souls into ours.”PLEASE NOTE: This review is based on an advance reader’s edition of this book. Goodreads Giveaway randomly chose me to receive this book free from the publisher. I was under no obligation to write a review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Passages quoted may differ from the finished product, which at the time of review, was not yet available. Review by Michael F. Bemis.
    more
Write a review