The New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul kept a record of every book she ever read, from Sweet Valley High to Anna Karenina, from Catch-22 to Swimming to Cambodia. She hauled this journal from city to city, job to job. She called her now frayed literary diary, Bob. That’s short for Book of Books.
The result is My Life with Bob. In this wise and absorbing memoir, Paul delves into her immersive relationship with books—how they shaped her life, and how her life influenced the books she chose to read. This is a book about the way books enrich our lives. About how they help us grow and learn and become. How books can be much like one’s dearest friend.
In October, Gramercy’s monthly book club has selected My Life with Bob—facilitated by one of our community’s most knowledgeable book lovers, WOSU book critic Kassie Rose—as a catalyst to talk about books that people can’t live without. To a handful of writers who have given talks and readings at Gramercy Books, I asked this question: What book has stuck with you over the years—one that may have shaped you or changed your life in some way—and what was it that you loved about it?
Here’s what they told me.
Kathy’s most recent poetry collection, Sycamore, was released last March (Milkweed Editions). She directs Creative Writing and the MFA Program at The Ohio State University, is Poetry Editor of OSU Press, and Advisor to the literary magazine, The Journal.
“There are SO many books that have affected me deeply over the decades, but I can say without hesitation that the very first one I remember having a serious influence on me was Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, a kid’s book. There was something very affirming in Harriet for me, a weird kid who liked writing stuff as much as she liked observing people and listening to what they had to say. The book got me to start keeping journals, which I kept fairly strictly for over forty years—and which now I use as writing journals more than diaries.”
Lee is the author of five novels—one, The Bright Forever, a Pulitzer Prize finalist—three memoirs, a short story collection, and being released this month (see October 6 event at Gramercy Books) Telling Stories: The Craft of Narrative and the Writing Life, a book about what it takes to keep writing and learning over the course of a life-long apprenticeship. Lee teaches in the MFA Program at The Ohio State University where he received the 2006 Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching.
“One of the books that has stuck with me over the years is The Great Gatsby. I love it for its elegant structure and for the elegiac voice of its first-person narration. I love it for being unashamed of hope and optimism and romance within the darkness of ego and corruption and greed. It captures the world of 1920s America in a way that seems timeless to me.”
Julia won the Pulitzer Prize in journalism while at the Chicago Tribune, and she just released the sixth novel in her best selling Bell Elkins mystery series, Fast Falls The Night. Julia is the recipient of a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University. The first volume of her science fiction trilogy for young adults, The Dark Intercept, will be published by Tor in November.
“I'm thrilled to put in a good word on behalf of a book that changed my life initially, and that keeps changing it, each time I read it and contemplate its themes and its quiet, austere beauty: The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather. I'm always surprised when I double-check and see that it was initially published in 1915! The surprise is because it doesn't read like some fusty relic from the beginning of the last century. The novel feels as contemporary as something whose chapters one might binge-watch on Netflix. It's about a young girl in a small Western town who dreams of becoming a great singer (think "American Idol," prairie-style), and what she must sacrifice in order to make her dreams come true. Thea Kronberg, the protagonist, is talented, but as the novel makes clear, talent is necessary but not sufficient to realize one's destiny.
"I read it first in as a college student, and have re-read it every few years ever since. Cather was a deceptively simple writer. It's only after you live inside her narrative for a while that you begin to appreciate what a beautiful craftswoman she was, and how haunting and resonant her characters are. For anyone who has ever lifted her eyes above a dusty horizon and yearned for a radiant elsewhere, The Song of the Lark is a perfect fit. It's like an instruction manual for fledging artists."
R L Stine
Author of the Fearstreet and Goosebump series, Bob’s been scaring young people around the world for more than thirty years. So far, he’s sold more than 400 million books and his books have been translated into 35 languages, making him one of the best-selling authors in history. Bob chose Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury.
“It isn't science-fiction, but it's my favorite Bradbury book and one I try to read at least once a year. It's a novel about a young boy (like Bradbury) growing up in the Midwest, set in a wonderful, gentle time that probably never really existed. The prose is so beautiful, you sometimes have to stop and take a breath. It's poetry. I read it every year just to remember what good writing is all about.”
A native of Mississippi, Nick is the author of the novel, How to Survive a Summer (Blue Rider, 2017). An Assistant Professor of English at The Ohio State University, Nick’s short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Guernica, The Hopkins Review, Indiana Review, Lit Hub, and elsewhere. His short story collection, Sweet & Low, is forthcoming in 2018.
“I first read E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web when I was eight years old. I remember inhaling the book - going through it so fast that I was able to read it a second time before I had to return it to the library. Recently, I sat down with it again, and was amazed by how White mixes humor and darkness, how he doesn't spare any punches and wasn’t afraid to break our hearts, or put them back together again before the last page. More than catharsis, Charlotte’s Web is a guidebook to kindness. And, nowadays, I often teach the opening of that book to my graduate students because, for my money, it has one of the best first lines in all of literature. I won’t spoil it here, but if you get the chance, take a look at how White begins that novel. To my mind, it immediately plunges us into the drama of the situation, while establishes voice and setting, too. A true masterstroke.”
Please join us on Tuesday, October 24 at 7:00 pm to share the books that changed your life!
Written by Linda Kass
About the author: I began my career as a magazine writer and correspondent for regional and national publications and am now an assistant editor for Narrative, an online literary magazine. My debut novel, Tasa’s Song, was inspired by my mother’s early life in eastern Poland during the Second World War. It won a Bronze Medal for Historical Fiction from the Independent Publisher Award Program and was a 2016 Foreword INDIES Award Finalist. I am also the proud owner of Gramercy Books, central Ohio’s newest indie bookstore!
Learn more about me on my personal website.