Pamela Paul’s My Life with Bob
New York: Henry Holt, 2017
Trade cloth, 256 pages
From the age of 17, in an attempt to transcend the petty details of a daily diary, Pamela Paul listed the books she read. Meet Bob: her Book of books.
The chapter headings in My Life with Bob include book titles which correspond to specific memories, both on- and off-the-page.
Readers glimpse only Bob’s first page, which begins with Kafka’s The Trial: eclectic choices, ranging from canonical to cult reads (although Rice’s Interview with a Vampire is desigated ‘inc.’ for incomplete).
Bob, however, is often left at home (protective measures), and his exploits are reported second-hand. It seems churlish to consign him to the margins of the story. Images reflecting the chapter headings, reproducing some of Bob’s later pages, would have made a lovely addition.
Pamela Paul moves easily from the personal to the universal and back again, and she is often funny. (“Not everybody can fall for a die-hard fan of Nicholas Sparks or a James Joyce completist.”) She acknowledges the role of privilege and fortune in her experiences in education, travelling, and her positions at the New York Times.
Along with the reading recorded in Bob, her informal and conversational tone makes her discussions – of how readers view themselves and the role reading plays in their lives, for instance – enjoyable. Most satisfying is the conversation about the power of books to moor, define, boost and unsettle readers, and the related desire for connection: on-the-page with characters, off-the-page with another version of one’s self, or off-the-page with a friend, mate, or loved one who has died.
Readers love bibliomemoirs. Other passionate readers (including Samantha Ellis, Maureen Corrigan, Anne Fadiman, Suzanne Strempek Shea, and Susan Hill) have won readers’ hearts with their bookishness.
For passionate readers, My Life with Bob has the makings of a page-turner.
© Marcie McCauley 2017