The editor of the New York Times Book Review writes about a book journal begun in adolescence that unexpectedly came to chronicle her own life story.
As a child, Paul (Parenting, Inc.: How the Billion-Dollar Baby Business Has Changed the Way We Raise Our Children, 2008, etc.) found her greatest solace in books. They were private spaces where she could safely indulge her most intimate obsessions with and curiosities about any topic. The author’s first effort at writing her own narratives ended with her feeling disgusted at the angst-ridden teen humiliations she routinely “vomit[ed]” into her diary. Her second, more successful effort consisted of a list that cataloged every book she had read, her “Book of Books,” or “BOB.” On this plain, gray book's unlined pages, Paul was able to “take charge of my own story and make it better” while maintaining both the objectivity and anonymity she prized. It was only much later that she realized Bob also granted access to “where I’ve been, psychologically and geographically,” at different periods in her life. The Norton Anthology of English Literature recalled her college years and how the university was “full of lessons about just how much I didn’t know.” A memory of how she had mistranslated another title, The Grapes of Wrath (“what had I said? The Plums of Fury”), for her French study-abroad host family reminded her of the escape Paris would come to represent after she started her professional life. Some books, like Thalia Zapatos’ A Journey of One’s Own, inspired Paul to take leaps of faith that led to several years of traveling around the world and temporary residence in Thailand. Others, like Lucy Grealy’s The Autobiography of a Face, helped her cope with major life crises. Intelligent, unique, and wise, Paul’s book not only remembers a life lived among and influenced by books. It also reveals how the most interesting stories exist less as words printed on pages and more as “stories that lie between book and reader.”
A thoughtfully engaging memoir of a life in books.