My Life With Bob by Pamela Paul

Review published on June 29, 2017.

There are few books that read as true for me as Pamela Paul’s My Life With Bob, and I suspect this life story told through books from the editor of The New York Times Book Review will resonate with bibliophiles the world over.

At the heart of Paul’s story is the titular Bob, Paul’s life companion since she was a teen. But Bob is not a boyfriend, a father or a brother, nay he’s not even a person. Nor is he a cat or a dog, a pony or a fish. No, Bob is Paul’s record of all the books she has read, her Book of Books. In its now dog-eared pages are listed the good, the bad and the ugly of books Paul has consumed for the last twenty-eight years, and it is, above all of the paraphernalia of her life, the one object – human beings aside – that Paul would rescue in a fire, containing as it does not only such an intimate record of her life, but moreover a very sense of who she is, where she has been emotionally and geographically and the different moments that have made up her existence. For non-book-lovers, this all sounds a bit excessive, but for bookworms, the importance Paul places in Bob and books in general is perfectly understandable. (Let’s not pretend, we all know which books we’d rescue in a fire!) If you don’t already have a Bob of your own, Paul’s book will certainly leave you considering starting your own reading record, and if you do have your own Bob, Paul’s testament will surely ring more bells than a campanologist.

Discussing some of the principal books that have dominated her story, Paul recounts important moments in her life, and from her adventures in China, to fleeing the Mafia in Italy, at times her journey reads like a novel. There’s also a strong sense of travelogue to the narrative, but much more than being an armchair traveller, rather than journeying vicariously, books have accompanied Paul around the globe. They have also been on hand during the highs and lows of love, loss and motherhood. And despite now holding one of the most influential positions in the book world, what shines out across Paul’s elegy is her continued awe, joy and love for books. It is easy to imagine critics as worn-out readers or jaded sceptics, but Paul comes across as a still committed enthusiast, even she admits to being a ‘fangirl’, and I found this really pleasing. So too the fact that her reading tastes are so wide and varied, and that whilst she enjoys many of the classics of literature she doesn’t get caught up on the canon, raving as much about The Hunger Games as Kafka’s The Trial. It is inspiring to see a literary editor so undogmatic in her inclinations.

Paul speaks of the power of books to make her laugh, make her cry, make her think, to challenge her and to connect her with the world and people around her, and what is so impressive is that she pulls off all of these functions in the space of her own book, with a humorous tale of getting lost in translation in France, a moving account of her relationship with her father, and a lovely chapter on her children and their reading habits. She dedicates a chapter too to Thalia Zepatos’s book, A Journey of One’s Own, finding inspiration for her own journey in Zepatos’s words, but Paul’s book itself has something of the inspirational about it, making a claim for bookworms the world over, and testifying to the fact that a life lived with books can be one of the most rewording and empowering there is. I suspect I won’t be the only reader who will have a complete affinity with this author and her bookish quest and I also expect Paul may be responsible for many a reader acquiring their own Bobs (or Blobs, as her husband did) – I may just take out shares in Moleskin now (other notebooks are available). But even if you don’t have a Bob of your own and don’t want to get one, Paul’s book is a powerful tribute to reading and those who read. It is like listening to the words of a friend who shares your love of books.

Jade Craddock 5/-

My Life With Bob by Pamela Paul
Henry Holt and Co. 9781627796316 hbk Jun 2017

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