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

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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.

242 pages, Hardcover

First published May 2, 2017

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About the author

Pamela Paul

18 books438 followers
Pamela Paul is the editor of The New York Times Book Review and oversees books coverage at The Times. She also hosts the weekly Book Review podcast. She is the author of six books, How to Raise a Reader, co-authored with Maria Russo, My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues, By the Book, Parenting, Inc., Pornified, and The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony. Prior to joining the Times, Paul was a contributor to Time magazine and The Economist, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and Vogue. Her next book, Rectangle Time, comes out in February. She and her family live in New York.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 838 reviews
Profile Image for Laura.
425 reviews1,243 followers
April 25, 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 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.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,602 reviews2,573 followers
February 6, 2019
(A revised version of this short review of my favorite book about books appeared on the National Book Critics Circle blog in February 2019.)

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.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,733 reviews14.1k followers
May 20, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Nat.
553 reviews3,176 followers
August 2, 2018
“Aren’t we all writers these days? We live through text. With our status updates and our e-mails, many of us spend our days writing down more words than we speak aloud. Anyone can write a book or post a story and find readers. Even those whose book reviews live exclusively on Amazon or Goodreads or in diaries or in the text of e-mails are still active creators of the written word.”

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: “It’s my way of keeping track. Because if I didn’t write it all down, I worry (naturally), I would forget it.”

My Life With Bob 1-- bookspoils
But what appealed to me in particular with My Life With Bob was the exploration of this next idea talked about in the paragraph below:

“Bob has lasted a lot longer than any of my abandoned teenage journals—I write in it still—and here’s why: diaries contained all kinds of things I wanted to forget—unrequited crushes and falling-outs with friends and angsting over college admissions. Bob contains things I wanted to remember: what I was reading when all that happened.”

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 (“Did she not see that I was a book person, different from other, more casual library visitors, that I cared?”), 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 The New York Times Book Review, 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:

“Like W. H. Auden, who once wrote, “Occasionally, I come across a book which I feel has been written especially for me and for me only,” I considered certain books mine, and the idea that other people liked them and thought of them as theirs felt like an intrusion. (“Like a jealous lover, I don’t want anybody else to hear of it”—Auden, again.) I wanted to be the only one who knew about a book or at least to be the first one there.”

I’ve said these exact words before, so reading someone else expressing the same notion was pivotal. “You know that experience of reading thoughts you haven’t yet articulated to yourself?” This was that.

Plus, I felt like I had so much to say with every turning page. The ideas presented and analyzed in My Life With Bob provided me with “a sense of total and complete identification.”

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.

“The mistake had been thinking I was somehow above fucking up royally, that I was safe. But I had been just as vulnerable and oblivious as anyone else, and reading all the books in the world couldn’t have saved me.”

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 didn’t read it,” Roger confessed once the plane reached cruising altitude. “But I meant to.”
I should have known. Except in cases of rare devotion—and even then—trying to make someone read something is like force-feeding a baby. Most people prefer reading what they want to read. This cold fact was particularly upsetting to my father, who viewed reading or watching something he recommended as a demonstration, even a proof, of love. He was obsessed with recommending, cajoling over and over until you submitted. “You have to watch Ballad of a Soldier, he’d insist, strong-arming you into the TV room. “Come in here,” he’d say as soon as I walked into his apartment on the Upper West Side. “I just want to show you one scene from Black Narcissus. Just one scene! Pammy, please!”

I wholeheartedly get the dad in this scenario.

“The prospect of finding someone who takes as much pleasure in the book as I do is often more a reward than the book itself. ”

Another thing I loved about My Life With Bob 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:

“In truth, I stayed in the hospital because I was in the middle of The Hunger Games. I’d started reading it in early labor, paused so that I could give birth, and then picked it back up to read almost immediately after Teddy was born and latched on, reading as I nursed. It was a genuine page-turner, and for once, with great pleasure, I had time to turn the pages.”


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

Note: I'm an Amazon Affiliate. If you're interested in buying My Life With Bob, just click on the image below to go through my link. I'll make a small commission!

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Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,398 followers
August 15, 2021
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 My Life with Bob 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 My Life with Bob 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 Am I Alone Here?: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live 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.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,049 followers
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 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.
Profile Image for Chris.
Author 35 books11.2k followers
June 22, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
462 reviews291 followers
July 16, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,412 followers
May 23, 2017
Coming out at this time of year, Pamela Paul’s memoir is reminiscent of a commencement speech, albeit book-length and one just as interesting for the parents as for the graduates. It is a blast to listen to an obsessive reader share her thoughts on books, her travels and travails. Bob is her lifelong companion and record, her Book of Books, the place she can note what she has read. It gives date of completion, and, because Paul tried to read books about the countries or cities she visits or lives, we deduce a sense of location. It is her book of memories then, a record of where she has been.

Paul was the single daughter born into a family of seven sons. Despite the expected in-house torture and rough-housing, her psyche remained remarkably intact, though her parent’s divorce may have had more effect than discussed here. She did emerge as a reader, an introvert, and from a young age wanted to write. In this book she has boldly decided to write about what she’s read in the context of her life, and astonishingly, it is interesting. We enjoy retracing her faltering steps as a burgeoning adult, in which she recalls with uncommon accuracy the embarrassed and confused feelings of a teen.

France plays a large role in Paul’s life. Although her American Field Service (AFS) experience in a small town in suburban France was not as she imagined, it set the table for her next visit and the one after that. Eventually she found a family in France that became a second home, a family that subsequently attended her weddings and met her children. This kind of close long-term relationship defines Paul, I think. We all have trajectories, but not all of us cultivate the path as we go so that it becomes personal, the impact felt on both sides.

Paul’s decision after college to go directly to Thailand without the usual scramble for underpaid work at home was prescient but daring. She’d not get another chance to see that part of the world with any depth, though the China portion of the trip gave me the screaming heebies. It sounded perfectly horrendous, completely uncomfortable, filled with sickness and incomprehension. The China trip was her father’s idea, and it never became hers. The unmitigated disaster of that trip reminds us that we have to own our journey, start to finish, for us to manage it with any kind of finesse.

There was a marriage that lasted a year. The utter heartbreak Paul experienced does not lacerate us: from the moment she begins to speak of her first husband we are suspicious. She is much too happy much too soon. Love is one thing. Blindness is another. In my mind I modify Thoreau to read: beware all enterprises that require giving up a large, rent-controlled flat in New York City...
"…the minute a subject veered from the fictional world, the private world, the secluded, just-us-on-top-of-the-mountain world, into the greater, grittier territory below, the nonfictional world, my husband and I had serious differences…Even when we each happily read those same books about the perfidy of man, we read them in opposite ways…this kind of book contested my essentially optimistic view of the world rather than overturned it…whereas for him, the world really was that bleak, and the books proved it."
Here you have, folks, a political difference so profound it can break nations in two. Ayn Rand’s work became Paul’s personal standard for judging viewpoints. Paul admits--she who practically worships books--that she threw one of Ayn Rand’s books in the trash after reading it, so that no one else would be polluted by its ideas. I laughed. I did the same thing, though I contemplated burning it before I did. In my tiny garage-turned-apartment in New Mexico, I wrestled with Rand’s horrifying vision of a society of go-getters and decided that to burn her book would invest it with too much significance.

I loved reading about Paul’s poor dating experiences after that. She was inoculated against irrational exuberance after her divorce, but she still wanted intimacy. She manages to share with us chortle-inducing instances of “okay, I’ve had enough of that” with some of the men she met later. My favorite might be the time a boyfriend convinces her that he’d been to the Grand Canyon before and so can show her “the best way to see it.” Har-dee-har-har. This memoir is a great example of smart and funny, gifting us many moments of remembering our own worst histories and reinforcing for younger women coming along that our judgment may be the only thing separating us from a much worse time of it.

Pamela Paul is now books editor of The New York Times and no longer has to struggle to find the coin to buy a new book. She is the best kind of editor for all of us because she is has read widely and acknowledges the draw of genre fiction while communicating her admiration for the range of new nonfiction that helps us cope with our history and our future. She is also an interested and informed consumer of Children’s lit and Young Adult titles, which aids me immeasurably since these are not my specialty and therefore necessitate me seeking assistance from a trusted source.

Access to all there is out there comes with its own set of stresses, but Paul has extended her reach by asking some of the best writers in the country to read and review titles in the NYT Book Review, and to talk about their selections on the Book Review Podcast, available each week from iTunes as an automatic download. Her guests and her own considered opinions help to narrow the field for us.

This is a great vacation read, not at all strenuous, yet it is involving. Imagine the unlikeliness of the concept: an introverted reader and editor writes a book about her life…reading…and it is interesting! Totes amazeballs. It occurs to me that Goodreads is one big Bob. I’m so glad Paul put the effort in to share with us: big mistakes don’t have to be the end of the world. It depends what happens after that. See what I mean about commencement?
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,254 reviews451 followers
June 24, 2017
I did love this book, because it's about books and reading and the people who love both those things. We get a biography of Pamela Paul along the way, who just happens to be the editor of the NYT Book Review, but that's beside the point. This is the story of all of us who were uncoordinated and bad at sports, so we read our books on the playground. Those of us who were socially inept as children and teens, and found our friends between the pages. Those of us who knew we could find all the answers in what we read, if we just read long enough. The specifics between our lives and hers may be different, but the story is basically the same.

How can you not love a woman who opted to stay in the hospital an extra day after the birth of her third child so that she could finish the Hunger Games Trilogy uninterrupted?
Profile Image for Idarah.
464 reviews48 followers
November 20, 2017

"Choosing a book is so gratifying, it's worth dragging out the process, starting even before finishing the current one. As the final chapters approach, you can pile up the possibilities like a stack of travel brochures. You can lay out three books and let them linger overnight before making a final decision in the morning." -Pamela Paul

During so many points in this book, I had to put it down and hug myself because I realized that there are people just like me out there! Here I thought my little "what to read next" ritual was unique, especially when I would string it out for a few days, or cheat entirely before I was even finished with the book I was reading at the moment. And then I read about it in a book...a memoir nonetheless.

This isn't my first book about books, and it's always nice when you can recognize many of the books mentioned because you've either read them or intend to. Paul's writing was so precise, funny and wry. Even the sad bits were immediately recognizable, and nothing about this book felt rushed. It felt like a super personal book club night with a few extra bottles of wine to round out the night. Highly recommend!

"When you pick up a book, you are about to enter the mind of someone who thinks differently from yourself...you have to read a book at the right time for you, and I am sure this cannot be insisted on too often, for it is key to the enjoyment of literature." -Doris Lessing
Profile Image for Celeste.
904 reviews2,339 followers
August 19, 2017
Full review now posted!

I came out of the womb with a passion for books. When I was a toddler, I didn’t sleep with my arms wrapped around a teddy bear; instead, I slept clutching a book. It didn’t matter what book. As long as there were words on the pages and the promise of a story between the covers, it was the book for me. I learned to read before I started Preschool, because I desperately wanted to be able to experience those stories for myself and on my own, even though I had a wonderful family full of people always willing to read to me. I memorized books before I could read them, reciting the lines I knew went with the pictures. So when the squiggles on the pages finally morphed into letters I could grasp and wrangle into words, I was beyond thrilled.

“Reading time became my time and place, another dimension where events operated by my own set of rules.”

Countless worlds opened to me right around my fourth birthday, and I’ve never looked back. As a child, I was always getting in trouble for sneaking books out with me when I was told to go outside and play. I read under bushes, and up trees, and in the bath. I read under my desk at school to the consternation and amusement of my teachers. I read on the school bus, even though it made me nauseous. I read on the playground, because I was athletically challenged and klutzy and was much safer with my head in a book than with my head in the game. I read when I should’ve been sleeping. I felt like I wasn’t living life to the fullest without a book in my hands. And I never really grew out of it. Words have always been as necessary as oxygen for me.

“Books gnaw at me from around the edges of my life, demanding more time and attention. I am always left hungry.”

So I am always thrilled to come across a book memoir. I’m not a big fan of memoirs as a general rule, because I’m an escapist and prefer to be transported somewhere impossible than read about someone else’s reality. It’s why I don’t do nonfiction very often. But book memoirs are different. Book memoirs show me that I’m not alone in my addiction to words or in their ability to shape my memories. I love reading about other people’s experiences with book that I’ve read and loved or hated. I love knowing that someone who had led a radically different life than mine can share the same passion.

“Sometimes you fall so much in love with a book that you simply have to tell everyone, to spread the love and to explain the state you’re in. You read passages aloud to anyone who will listen. You wait with bated breath, watching for signs of appreciation, wanting that smile, that laugh, that nod of recognition. Please love this book too, you silently— and sometimes not so silently— urge.”

Pamela’s life is almost unbelievable. The places she’s been and the things she’s experienced are so far beyond my wheelhouse that I had a hard time remembering that what I was reading was in fact true. Also, she has every book lover’s dream job: editor for The New York Times Book Review. I loved how for each major season of her life was defined by a particular book, and that thinking about that book could bring back that season for her. The idea of linking real-life memories with works of literature is not something I’ve heard discussed much, though it’s something I’ve always done in my own life. Reading about someone else viewing life through a similar lens, even though her life looked so different from mine, was just fun. Bob, or Pamela’s Book of Books, is something that I’ve always kept in my head or sporadically in little notebooks that had a terrible habit of disappearing, but I wish I had kept track better. She recorded every single book she read since the age of seventeen in that book, and I think it’s incredible. I’d love to be able to look back and see exactly when I read something and remember what was going on in my life then, for longer than the few years I've been on Goodreads. I have vague recollections, and Goodreads helps, but it’s just not the same. I think I might start my own Bob. It’s never too late, right?

“Even if we don’t keep a physical Book of Books, we all hold our books somewhere inside us and live by them. They become our stories.”

Within this book, I found profound thoughts on both reading and writing, an ode to words well-written and well-loved. Pamela’s writing was engaging and funny and beautiful, and I loved every minute of it. Seriously, there are more incredibly quotable lines and paragraphs than I can justify putting into a review. I can’t express what exactly is keeping me from giving this book five stars instead of four, unless it’s just the intrinsic differences in our lives and my inability to relate to certain parts of her story. If you love books and love books about books, you should definitely pick this one up!

This review can be found at Booknest. You can find more of my reviews, as well as my fiction, poetry, and thoughts on life, at Celestial Musings.
Profile Image for Jess.
504 reviews118 followers
December 17, 2017
I started this in July (that's right, July) and finished this week because I promised myself I'd finish it in 2017. The lengthy read is not for the reasons easily concluded amongst bookish folk. The length of my read was due to my not wanting to have the book end. It was the perfect book to pick up and read a chapter when I wanted to resonate with another reader. Pamela Paul made me feel like I wasn't the oddball in childhood I thought I was. I grew up in a family of relatively non-readers (most still aren't) and I was viewed as the slightly eccentric one that we humor. I still hold that title at family gatherings. Reading wasn't viewed as a worthy pursuit of one's time and I grew to hide my literary hobby and love for many years. This book embraced me in a warm hug and said "You weren't odd. There are plenty of others that feel like you do about books". It was like a homecoming.

"Like W.H. Auden, who once, wrote "Occasionally I come across a book which I feel has been written especially for me and for me only", I considered certain books mine, and the idea that other people liked them and thought of them as theirs felt like an intrusion. (Like a jealous lover, I don't want anybody else to hear of it" -Pamela Paul

I'll be honest this was a book I felt was written for me and for me alone. It also probably took so long to read because I was jealously guarding it close to my heart, not ready to share my feelings openly yet on it. This book moved me to grateful tears, smiles, and belonging. Paul captured all my feelings about books and put them to paper in a far more eloquent manner than I could ever muster. The first half of the book as she recounts books and bookish experiences that shaped her through childhood into her college years is golden. I identified with her young view that families inside books always seemed better; like the sisters in Little Women. She then explains how deeply personal reading is and brilliantly quotes W.H. Auden... as mentioned above in my feelings for this book.
I became entranced in her post college years as I vicariously traveled with her to Thailand, Cambodia, China, Europe. This is where Paul and I diverged. I'm not well traveled. I want to be and intend to be. But I didn't take the adventurous dare she received from Anna Karenina to go to Thailand. Her reasoning that "bookish girls tend to mark phases of there lives by periods of intense character identification" is spot on. Scarily actually. I was right on par with her timeline of Little Women, Nancy Drew, horse books, Judy Blume... and I had a few other phases. I'm sure I still will as well.
My heart grieved with her as she recounted her first marriage, divorce, life post divorce, remarriage, children, and returning to the work force as an editor for the New York Times Book Review. Again, our lives are vastly different. But I found camaraderie in reading how certain books pushed/helped her through her life. I think bookish people can readily relate to that. Certain books find us when we need them to. I feel like this book found me exactly when I needed it to and I finished it exactly when I needed to. It left me with the warm feeling you get after excitedly talking about a favorite book with someone else who happens to find it as their favorite book as well.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,688 reviews451 followers
May 29, 2017
"My Life With Bob" is a delightful memoir by Pamela Paul, the editor of the New York Times Book Review. BOB is not a person, but is her "Book of Books", a journal listing every book she has read since age 17. When she looks back on her list of books, the entries transport her to another time when she was reading a particular book.

Her memoir is sometimes humorous, often nostalgic, and occasionally tells of times that were frightening or hurtful. Each chapter is titled with an important book that she read at that time in her life. For example, "Swimming to Cambodia" is the book chosen when she lived and traveled in Asia for two years after college. "The Wisdom of the Body" was for the chapter about her first publishing job when she was surprised by an assignment to work on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. "A Wrinkle in Time" titles the chapter about reading with her three children and working as an editor for the review of children's books.

The author is kept very busy now caring for her family, working as a book review editor, and writing her own books. It's hard for her to carve out a bit of treasured time for reading. Reading a page-turner now is "a masochistic thrumming of simultaneous desire and deprivation involving late nights and little sleep, ignored and resentful children, furtive retreats into the bathroom to secretly flip the pages." Any book lover will understand when she writes, "Even if we don't keep a physical Book of Books, we all hold our books somewhere inside us and live by them. They become our stories."
Profile Image for Melora.
575 reviews141 followers
May 22, 2017
This isn't bad, but it isn't what I expected, and I was disappointed. Amazon recommended this to me after I read Will Schwalbe's Books for Living, which I loved, and I somehow expected that it would, like that book, be fairly focused on the author's thoughts on various books she'd read. Which, actually, the dust jacket doesn't claim.

Paul's book is a memoir in which her identity as a reader is central. She begins keeping her “Book of books” in high school, and over the years faithfully maintains her list of each book she reads. As she explains, the list of the books she reads serves as a chronicle of her ambitions, inquiries, whims, etc. She mentions titles recorded at various times in “Bob,” but generally we don't get much more than than a title. A few times she gives a bit more, as when she describes how she starved herself while traveling in China after reading Jung Chang's Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, and feeling like she needed to do some suffering. This, like many of her choices, struck me as... weird. Maybe it's just because I've traveled so little myself, but it seems to me that if a person were on an exotic foreign vacation, particularly one involving a lot of hiking, that would not be the sensible time to choose to go on a starvation diet to test one's ability to endure suffering. Seems like a good way to ruin a trip to me. Actually, Paul does a tremendous lot of globe-trotting in this book – she comes across as impressively adventurous and brave – but she never appears to find much joy or excitement in her travels. She does talk about reading in temples and yurts, but she never conveyed (to me) any passion or enthusiasm for what she saw. The impression I got was that she wanted to be the sort of person who took exotic trips. In a similar vein, after the break-up of her first marriage, which gets a huge lot of space and drama, the greatest source of anguish for her (and there's heaps of it) is her loss of status as a Married Person. This for a marriage which followed a brief courtship and lasted less than one year. And cost her, very traumatically, several pages in her “Bob,” which her ex had noted his own titles on.

Once Paul's narrative reaches her second marriage and, more particularly, her experiences sharing books with her children, I found it much more engaging. Perhaps it's just that that's something I've done myself, while I've never dodged rapists in Vietnam or escaped white slavers in Florence, but also she comes across as less silly, self-absorbed, and petulant in the later chapters. In part this is probably a function of age – lots of people do dumb stuff, waste opportunities, and wallow in drama in their late teens and twenties (no slight intended to those whose judgement skills matured early -- I wish I had been among your number) – but unfortunately she devotes most of the book to those unhappy early years, not introducing her second husband until page 175, allowing only 65 pages for bookish aspects of life with a compatible husband and her three children.

While I wasn't wild about this book, it might be of more interest to readers who've enjoyed her earlier books. I'd never heard of her before, but Paul tells readers repeatedly that she is a successful author, and Amazon lists three other books by her, one on pornography, one on failed first marriages, and one on parenting, plus a collection of interviews with famous writers from The New York Times Book Review. I imagine that most devoted readers have, at one time or another, kept book logs, but to have kept a record of every book read from one's teens through mid-forties really is impressive.
Profile Image for Sam Sattler.
967 reviews40 followers
March 20, 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 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.
Profile Image for Julie.
1,948 reviews38 followers
August 13, 2021
I loved Pamela Paul's book about her Book of Books (aka Bob). She writes that "over the years, Bob has become an even more personal record than a diary might have been," as it contains all her personal reactions and thoughts about the books she chose that "drove [her] interests and shaped [her] ideas." If her house were on fire, she would save Bob before other items of value such as photo albums and heirlooms.

Much of what Paul writes about books resonated with me. Like Paul, I prefer to discover books for myself rather than have books recommended to me. Reading reviews on Goodreads is a wonderful way to do this without any emotional weight attached. As Paul writes, a seemingly innocent, ""You should read this book" almost never simply means you should read this book." Invariably, there is some expectation on the part of the person recommending the book, which the reader may feel obligated to interpret and live up to.

Sometimes, a particular person will come to mind when I am reading. For instance, when I read a book by Charles Dickens, I think about my Grandad and read in memory of him, as he loved Dickens' great novels. So, when I read that Paul reads certain books with her father in mind, I felt a sense of connection with her.

She also provides an explanation for why we may be drawn to reading dark material about topics such as death and murder. It is something I have wondered about myself. Paul writes, "Dark books say to us, "This isn't about you. You are in fact alive and safe." Yes, there's an implicit and unavoidable warning, an edge of danger; these things happen, the books say. And yet, as bad as it gets inside the book, you, the reader, are securely outside." So, we can gain not only knowledge, but also comfort from reading dark material.

After reading the chapter on Les Misérables, I am curious to read it, especially after reading how Paul describes Victor Hugo's writing regarding our fond nostalgia for places in bygone times:

"Victor Hugo, the great romantic historian of a novelist, French counterpart to Charles Dickens, understood the effects of inevitable change on a place you know and love, even as your memory clings to the familiar contours of its past."

Finally, from the epilogue, I loved the idea that "when a child in Uganda reads the same life-changing novel that the thitysomething lawyer recalls reading while growing up in Illinois, a connection is established across class, culture, and time."
Profile Image for Jim Coughenour.
Author 4 books178 followers
May 22, 2017
Gore Vidal delighted in the word "bookchat" – and you won't find a chattier book than My Life with Bob. For some reason I expected a ramble of interesting observations about interesting books. Instead its subject is its author, who garlands her memories of childhood, friends, and travels with a random bibliography. The books themselves are incidental. For example, the chapter entitled "The Master and Margarita" is actually about the hazards of recommendations. Buried among the welter of recommended titles, here's what she has to say about Bulgakov's hallucinogenic classic:
After reading the love story of the imprisoned author the Master and his devoted, besotted Margarita, I passed it on to Kirsten, sealing the familial bond. In Russia, I would be able to repay Roger as we walked through Patriarch Ponds and checked out the graffiti on Bulgakov House, re-imagining scenes in which the devil comes to Moscow.
And that's all there is about that.

Andrew Solomon's blurb assures us that Paul's plotless peregrinations "will captivate all but the most stony reader." I guess I'm granite.
Profile Image for Emily.
873 reviews146 followers
September 25, 2017
I was tremendously intrigued when I first heard of this title, largely because starting in my early 20s, I kept a "book of books" of my own (and when I became active on goodreads in 2009 or so, painstakingly transferred all the information over here). Now that I've read Pamela Paul's memoir, I feel vaguely disappointed. I'm not sure sure what I was expecting. Really, how much plot can ensue as a result of keeping a list of books read? Did I somehow think this memoir would actually be about me? This is, in fact, a perfectly nice collection of essays about how various books shaped the author's life, or just commingled with it. Sometimes the lessons learned in each self contained chapter were a little too pat for my tastes, but I also felt myself wanting to talk back to the author about her reading, and tell her about mine, and it's pleasing to learn that the editor of the New York Times book review has such sensible thoughts about the value of all different kinds of reading.
Profile Image for Jennifer Blankfein.
384 reviews653 followers
July 31, 2017
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I received multiple copies of My Life with Bob as a gift for my birthday; evidently several people believed I would enjoy it and of course, they were right! As a reader, what’s not to like about a book about someone who loves books.

Author Pamela Paul, editor of The New York Times Book Review kept a record of everything she read in her Book of Books (Bob) for almost 30 years. Her memoir takes us along her life journey with the list of everything she read along the way from her teen years to adulthood. This journal, Bob, is synonymous with her, representing a diary with hopes and dreams, the good, the bad and the ugly. The books she read impacted her life and her life influenced the books she read. She mentions so many, lots of titles I haven’t read and some I have never heard of, but no matter, the story of her life is intriguing and interesting and her story about Bob is inspirational and motivating.

Pamela is open and honest as she shares stories from her travels, relationship issues, family matters and personal disappointments along with joys and celebrations. When she recounts the toast her husband, Michael, made at their wedding, mentioning books she gave him early in their relationship and quoting from Great Expectations, I admit, I shed a tear. She conveyed experiences that touched her in such a way that they touched me too; beautifully written creating a wonderful connection between author and reader.

Pamela talks about her bookclub and everyone’s answers to the question Why Read?

“I read for sheer entertainment.”

“I read to learn.”

“I read to make sense of the world.”

“I read to find out something new.”

“I read to escape.”

“I read because it makes me happy.”

“I read for discovery.”

“For each of us, there seemed to be one core need that drove us to read on. But it was more complicated than that, as the ensuing conversation soon revealed. Everyone experiences most of these urges at different moments, or during certain periods of our lives, which is why most good readers read widely, even if they tend to go deep into one genre or another.”

I enjoyed thinking about the various styles of books I read, and much like how music of a certain time in your like evokes feelings and memories for so many, books can do the same and more. Pamela travelled all over the country, got married, divorced, remarried, had children, changed jobs, yet her Book of Books remained with her to ground her, keep her accountable and motivate her to continue plowing ahead, all the while representing her journey. Each title has significance during a time in her life and the draw to keep adding to the list is real. I wish I kept a Bob from the beginning but more recently I began to record what I read on My Goodreads Account.

Although I haven’t read nearly as much as she has and I’m sure I retain only a small percentage of what I read compared to her, I feel a connection to Pamela and a kinship over the love of books and reading. My Life with Bob is a real treat and a lovely gift for the reader in your life!
Profile Image for Jennifer.
350 reviews393 followers
October 15, 2017
"If I pass a bookstore, I want to go in. When I see an espeically sweet library, my heart swells. Used bookstores contain untold possibilities. Library sales, same thing. There is always room for more books, even though I've barely dented the piles I already have.

Like all collectors, I exist in a perpetual state of want that bears no reasonable relationship to the quantity of unread books mountaining up on my shelves."

This is a book lover's book. I think I highlighted more passages in this gem than I have in any other book this year.

Pamela Paul has always loved books and reading (she now has her dream job of editor of The New York Times Book Review). Early on in life, she started a BOB journal (a Book of Books) listing each and every books she's read.

This book takes us through her life, some of the books she's read, and is simply a delight.

Thank you to Henry Holt & Co. and NetGalley for a galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Navi.
111 reviews161 followers
July 11, 2018
Pamela Paul is the editor of The New York Times Book Review and has had a lifelong obsession with books. This is her heartfelt and touching account of her life with BOB - her Book of Books. Pamela has recorded all of the books that she has ever read since her early twenties. On the surface, this looks like a simple enough idea but I cannot put to words how much I enjoyed reading this.

I loved following Paul's experience throughout the different stages of her life via the books she was reading at that time. The author takes the reader on a journey into her life from growing up as a shy, introverted child, travelling the world, various employment situations, falling in love, getting a divorce, grieving over her father and having children. The one thing that has always remained a constant in her life are books. They act as a trusted companion always there to serve as a balm for difficult times, provide much needed advice, enrich travelling adventures and act as a outlet to escape the world when Paul needed it the most.

I'd highly recommend this to all bookish people!
Profile Image for Kaethe.
6,399 reviews463 followers
July 21, 2018
Dear Pamela Paul,
There was only one aspect of your book I was disappointed with: despite teasing the reader with Bob you only ever show the one page, nor do you provide a convenient index to titles, nor an online searchable list. Of course, print is your thing, but it seems like a natural desire to me, to see the whole list.

Anyway, here is my Bob. I hope you enjoy it, even though we've never met.


While nowhere near as consistent over time as Paul, I can't help but feel an affinity: I have been keeping track of books read and to read since 87 or so. The blank books got messy and weren't searchable, but the Access dataset and the backup disk became obsolete when I wasn't paying attention, and my first book forum changed formats before shuttering and then Goodreads deleted stuff...keeping track has been hard.

Which reminds me, I need to see if there's any way to do a bulk upload to Google Books which includes one of the most important features to me, one that GR has dropped: the ability to order and more importantly, re-order my to-read list.

Paul chose to read Brave New World, 1984, and A Clockwork Orange for her honours thesis in high school. I read them all (and 1985, too) in high school because I heard of them somewhere (maybe they were required at my old school?) and they weren't going to be used in any of my classes. Is there any age at which dystopias are more apropos? Thus, I was primed to love Terry Gilliam's Brazil.

Yeah, probably I'm going to end up writing a paragraph a page, because this is the sort of book I had always imagined I would write. Not that I would have done it this well if I had ever made the effort, which is the only hard part about writing. But it isn't possible to read a memoir of reading and not think, "oh, me too" or "huh, that's different." When she describes having Wired taken away from her, I remember the only time either of my parents ever questioned a book I was reading: Wifey by Judy Bloom, the 79 Pocket edition, showing a naked woman's torso as she takes off her wedding band. It was on the bedside table, cover facing up. Maybe I hadn't yet started reading it that night, or maybe I put it down when my father came in to tell me goodnight, but he glanced at it, and asked if my mother knew I was reading it. I'm in high school, but young, 13 or 14. I said "yeah" because she was probably there when I picked it up at the drug store or by the grocery store cash register, which is where I got most of my books those days. As far as I recall he didn't say anything else about it, although he probably did say something about not staying up too late, or about the cat being in the wrong place: routine and ongoing concerns of his. He really loved having lots of pets, mostly so he could complain about them, or yell at them for being in the wrong place according to his schedule.

"Mumblenyms" is brilliant. I consistently misread Narnia as Narinia the first time through, but I don't think I had ever said it aloud. I'm still bitter about "albeit" which I thought was a German borrowing pronounced ahl-bite. Of course, once I heard someone else say all be it, it made sense.


There's a huge middle section that was entertaining to read but didn't strike many chords. Yes, Spaulding Gray's work was a revelation, but that may be the only shared author for years. Paul was off backpacking and seeking adventures, and reading serious works and I ... wasn't. But now our paths have reconverged with maternity, and the discovery that breastfeeding is perfect reading time.

Now comes the disappointment of your kids not choosing "your" books, not being attracted to the ones you once loved, or to the newer ones you've gifted. Given the option of choosing for oneself, whether it be clothes, or books, or hobbies, those choices will often disappoint both others and oneself. The unspoken dream of parenthood is that by taking advantage of our experience, our kids will have an easier, better life, avoiding our pitfalls. The reality is that everyone needs to make their own choices: we have to make wrong choices in order to recognize good ones. It's no use saying "you'll hate having bangs, they will be annoying, they'll never look right, they'll never do right and then you have to endure ages while they grow out." You might be right, or it may turn out that is only true for you, or it may turn out you were right about bangs when the child is four, but not when the child is twenty.

Regardless, it's hard to let go of the dream. It's hard reading aloud a bad book, let alone an endless series of bad books. On the other hand, reading aloud is way more fun than I ever suspected.
Profile Image for Biblio Files (takingadayoff).
572 reviews289 followers
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 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.)
Profile Image for Eric.
651 reviews106 followers
April 1, 2018
Within the genre of memoirs there is the sub-genre of memoirs about books and reading. Or writing. Being a rabid, avid reader myself, I love this kind of book. I connect with hearing those stories similar to my own.

For several years now, I've listened to Pamela Paul on the New York Times Book Review podcast. She is editor of the NYT Book review and the podcast's host. My favorite part of the podcast is the last segment, where she and fellow editors and critics discuss what they've been reading for the past week. This book has that informal, freewheeling feel, but also goes into more emotional territory at times.

It's also a bit of a travel memoir, as Paul takes us through her younger days backpacking in Asia and spending periods of time living with a family in France. While reading this book, I was also reading Elif Batuman's autobiographical novel, The Idiot, and there are many parallels.

In the end, the question arises: why do we, the insatiable readers of the world, read? Something to think about. I have several reasons, some of which are listed in my Goodreads profile.

Paul's BOB (her book of books), is simply a list of all the books she's read since she was a teenager. I thought of mimicking this. It seemed like a good idea. But then I realized I'm already doing it here on Goodreads and have been doing so for the past ten years or so.

I look forward to meeting Paul at the Manchester, Vermont Booktopia event later this year.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 27 books5,627 followers
March 21, 2018
It me.

Listen, I didn't grow up in New York, a child of divorce. I didn't go to Brown and major in English, or travel the world alone without a plan and carrying only a backpack of books (though I would have liked to!). But somehow this is still me. Pamela Paul is me, and every other bookworm. I have a Bob, a Book of Books, though sadly I neglected it a few years back in favor of Goodreads. I still wake up in a sweat worrying about what will happen in the post-apocalyptic future when computers are mere relics of our decadent time. I have only recently begun to actually get rid of books I didn't like, or that I know I will never read. I associate certain times of my life with certain books, and vice versa. I judge people by their bookshelves, or what they like to read, or if they don't like to read, and assume that booksellers and librarians (if not everyone who sees me) is judging me for mine.

She is me, somehow, though we are different.

My sister, too. We just read it at the same time, after our mom sent us each a copy. She read it for her book club and kept having to underline, because so much of it reminded her of me or Jenn. This is a booklover's book. But it's also a fascinating story of a life that is ordinary and extraordinary in turns.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,462 reviews560 followers
September 2, 2017
I bought My Life With Bob on an impulse and inhaled it in a couple of sittings, reluctantly putting it down only when life intruded. So much of what Paul writes about in this excellent memoir resonated with me and reminded me of how books have shaped my own life. I enjoy reading about books and reading but I can't think of a book about books that I loved more than this one!
245 reviews
July 1, 2017
I really wanted to like this, and expected to, but I ended up struggling to finish it so I could move on to something more engaging. It's an autobiography of the current NYT Book Review editor, oriented around her reading history. Each chapter mentions a flurry of books and calls out one in particular related to that chapter's theme. Unfortunately, her life events don't really merit a memoir, and she doesn't make up for this via great storytelling or some other draw. The "plot" is often vague, and the tone is self-conscious, with Paul insisting that she went to Thailand before it was cool, lived in Manhattan before it was expensive, etc. Even the literary theme eventually became grating. My tastes and Paul's don't overlap much, yet she didn't pique my interest in any of the books she rattles off...which makes me curious to read some of her book reviews. Had high hopes for this one, but it left me cold.
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