The best books, especially memoirs, I think, tell you about yourself in a way you never could articulate before. At least that’s why I’ve always read books. I read in order to figure out a way to express myself a little better. I’m a hoarder in this way. I’m constantly mining books for new phrases, new words, concepts that I can plagiarize in order to express myself more accurately, fine-tuning my ability to relate to myself and therefore to others.
The premise of Pamela Paul’s memoir My Life With Bob is so simple yet unique. Like many kids, Pamela Paul was a voracious reader. And she kept reading, into her teens, throughout the shiftless angst of college, the crippling self-doubt of her post-college years, the joy of motherhood, the high of marriage and the low of a divorce.
The twist is that Pamela Paul kept a diary, a Book of Books fondly nicknamed “Bob”, with the name and date of every book she’s ever read. Looking back over that journal tells a story all of its own. It’s more than a pretentious checklist or a brag point. For Paul, it’s a narrative. It’s a part of her life. Bob is real, and she tells the story of her life through the lens of these books.
Reading My Life With Bob was a little like reading about myself. Like Paul, I can hardly remember a time when my nose wasn’t buried in a book. Books have been my therapy, my teachers, my friends. It’s a huge part of my life and yet reading is an intensely private pursuit. Though – like many readers and writers – I’m prone to secrecy and possessiveness over my literary experiences, there’s also a part of me that wishes I could share my experiences on the page.
There’s a beautiful irony in the way that My Life With Bob makes the solitary pursuit of reading accessible and communal.
I’ll leave you with a smattering of my favorite (and highly relatable) quotes.
“Children are notoriously literal readers, and I was no exception. Books, I believed, contained the entire truth about everything, and if you could just read every book or even a good chunk of the Truly Important Ones, you would know what you needed to know about real life. And you could be a part of it.” (19)
“I felt ahead of the game, convinced that if only I read enough books, I would have everything I needed for the life I wanted, both aware and unaware of how little I really knew.” (26)
“It never once occurred to me to skip my assigned reading, no matter how unappealing.” (56)
“Narrating your life necessarily means holding it at a certain distance. There’s a risk to reading your life more than actually living it.” (102)
“What someone reads gives you a sense of who they are.” (164)
“When I suppressed all of my natural anxieties and fine-tuned fears, I did end up loving it.” (169)
“To witness feelings you’ve only experience within reflected in the pages of a book is a revelation.” (193)
“It’s not exactly about escape. It’s about experiencing something I would otherwise never have the chance to experience.” (221)
“Writers often prefer to write alone but adore complaining together.” (233)