Pamela Paul, editor of the New York Times Book Review and author of five books, is quick to admit she’s a list maker. “I’ve got both a notebook that lists the things I need to do, with empty boxes that get checked off when those tasks are completed, and a paper calendar that lists all my meetings, each one of which get circled afterwards,” she says. “Every day I wake up believing in the possibility that if I could check everything off on those lists, I’d be done forever. But it’s a fool’s errand.”
One list that is not likely to approach doneness is the one that fills the pages of her Book of Books, or Bob. Her nearly three-decade relationship with Bob, a journal of sorts, is the subject of her newly released memoir, My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues (Holt). What seemed a utilitarian record of every book Paul has read since she was 17 was fodder for complaint from a variety of Paul’s old boyfriends. “One of them said, ‘Wait, you’re just writing the title and the author? Where are the synopses, the book reviews, the explanation of what it all meant?’ ” she says.
These were all in Paul’s head, along with what she considers more important information—where she was when she read the book and what the experience meant to her. “Looking over the list I can remember [that] I got that book in Bangkok on my way to Thailand, and it was so expensive, but then I left it on the bus,” Paul says. “I can place it in the time line of my life, and remember the emotions I felt, even if I don’t always remember exactly what was in that book.”
Equally important to Paul is the more transient opportunity each book has afforded her, allowing her as she reads to try out experiences she might never otherwise have: coal mining, surviving a tsunami, exploring the Amazon rainforest as Teddy Roosevelt. So her book about Bob becomes an exploration of why we read. Paul fully expects her readers will come with their own opinions about this. Fundamentally, she says, “[My Life with Bob] is about the reading experience and the relationship between book and reader.”
Today, 1:30–2 p.m. Pamela Paul will sign at the Macmillan booth (3008, 3009).