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!