Because what people read says so much about them, I can't help wanting to know what other people are reading. Most of us do this. We crane our necks into our neighbor's personal space on the subway and pretend to tie our shoes so we can see the title that person is holding while standing in line. We try to decipher what's happening on someone else's tablet and iPhone. E-readers are especially noxious in their opacity. You want to blurt out, 'Can you please just show me the cover? I need to know.'
... The moment someone lets me into his or her home, my gaze veers to the bookshelves, forming impressions of people I don't know and discovering unknown aspects of people I thought I knew well. Is the person an alphabetizer? Do the books appear suspiciously on display for show -- distinguished spines and ornamental jackets, artfully selected for the color of the binding, nary a bad movie guide in their midst?
It's hard not to wish that everyone -- my friends, my family members, writers I know and don't know -- would keep a Book of Books. What better way to get to know them? You could find out so much if you could get a read on where other people's curiosities lie and where their knowledge is found. What are you reading? And what have you read? And what do you want to read next? Not knowing the answers to these questions means you miss a vital part of a person, the real story, the other stories -- not the ones in their books, but the stories that lie between book and reader, the connections that bind the two together..
Do you keep a Book of Books, that is, a book list/journal/notebook of some kind? I do. I have for a long time, since just after college. These days, it's mostly just a running list of the books I've read (and audiobooks I've listened to), with the title, author, date finished, and a word or two (literally) about what I thought ('Wonderful.' Enjoyed very much.' 'Disappointing..') If I don't finish a book, I don't list it, and if I'm re-reading one, it has to have been a long time between readings for it to be listed again. When I went back just now to look at my old ones, to see when I started doing this, I noticed that I used to fill them with lists of books I wanted to read, lists in order of the books in a mysteries series or all of the Barbara Pyms or Angela Thirkells, quotes from books I was reading, and even sometimes words I had never come across before. Much more interesting to leaf through ... maybe I'll start doing some of these things again. I know I'm not the only person who likes to look back at her lists to see what she was reading at some point in the past.
So I was naturally drawn to this memoir, by the editor of the New York Times Book Review, who started keeping her Book of Books (a.k.a. Bob) -- one notebook all this time, not yet filled, and beginning to fall apart -- in high school, and looks back at moments in her life -- high school angst, college, first jobs, first (very short) marriage, second (happier) one, parenthood, work, and family -- by connecting them to books she was reading at the time. I enjoyed her voice, and her stories, and it's the kind of book that's easy to dip into, a chapter here and there. But what I liked about it most of all, I think, is that the author and I don't have all that many experiences, or reading interests, in common, but I still enjoyed spending time with her, just because she'a a reader; that's how I feel about reading with all of you.
My life with Bob: flawed heroine keeps book of books, plot ensues, by Pamela Paul
Henry Holt and Company, 2017
Borrowed from the library