Bob the Book is simply wonderful. I’m definitely buying a paperback version of this book and cherishing it (whatever it’s name and maybe it’ll find love on my shelves). The book plays on familiar grounds but in inventively new and fresh ways. There are a few moments of overt preaching though. I didn’t mind this too much since the book is simply delightful and entertaining, which makes up for the obvious hammering home of how difficult life can be for those different. While readers may not appreciate the lecturing, the story more than makes up for those few moments with touching lessons, heart felt sentiment, and an adorable love story for books of all kinds and sexualities.
The book is a twist on popular children’s book formats in that it humanizes inanimate objects. In this case, books. Here the books are like humans with worries, cares, hopes, dreams, heart ache, pain, shame, fear, pride, longing, and love. They experience a range of emotions often dictated by the whims of their owners, some who love books and others who don’t. The main narrator is a book named Bob. Bob’s title is Private Pleasures: Myth and Representation in Male Photo Sets and Pornography from the Pre-Stonewall Era to 1979. Bob starts out this novel sitting in a used bookstore primarily among gay titles. He meets Moishe, a book on bisexual Judiasm. Bob and Moishe are in love but are bought by different owners. Thus setting off a journey where Bob encounters new friends, potential new lovers, and even helps a couple of humans find love.
The main characters are all books and express their personality as vibrantly and memorably as if they were human. The movie that kept springing to mind is the Disney movie Antz, where I can’t ever think of stepping on an ant after they’ve been given such adorable neuroses. Likewise I worry that my books on the shelf aren’t living happy lives but if they’re anything like the characters in Bob, then it’s not so bad. Bob shares narrating duties with a cast of eccentric and wonderfully engaging books. There is Angela, a Jane Austin book whose husband drowned in an apartment flood. Neil, who thinks his lover Jerry died in a homophobic book burning in Alabama. Jerry, who actually survived the fire but thinks he’ll never see Neil again. Luke, a book by the same author as Bob but with much more pornographic pictures which leaves Bob jealous and Luke bitter. There are even a few humans thrown in as book owners along the way, notably Alfred and Ron.
Although there is a human component the real stars are without question the books. They discuss their fears, hopes, dreams, pain, and love. Similar to a children’s book the novel definitely has a moral or two mixed into the plot. These are seen mostly through Jerry’s counseling as he tries to get books to understand the plight of other books that may not seem as popular or as easy to like. The plot constantly uses the books as metaphors, especially gay books (books that like books of the same gender!) as they speak about how life isn’t as easy for them. All books worry about their subject matter, their covers, hard back or soft, classic or academic. These concerns are of course easily transferred to the same issues plaguing the human readers/owners.
Some of these lessons are a bit obvious and in your face. This feels like preaching to the choir since no doubt those reading this book are already converted but the messages are short lived and often accompanied by a sweet, touching moment between the books which helps takes the sting out of the lecture. Also due to the format I expected a couple “moral of the story” moments so I’m not too bothered by these overt passages. They’re minor blips in an otherwise excellent story. The writing is often sly, humorous, incredibly witty, and keeps a good solid pace. There are literary references littered all over the pages but in ways that invite the reader to laugh and join in on the fun. The classic books tend to be uptight and snobby but they are after all beloved books while the self-helpers can be so optimistic even other books can’t stand them sometimes.
The tone is sweet, witty, and charming. The light hand with the prose keeps even the sometimes darker moments from being overwhelming but they still make a memorable impact. The lessons offered are lovely and well worth knowing, but do feel fresh coming from a worried and lonely book. There are too many passages to quote but here is just one that stands out.
How could one go on like that, enjoying romance but ready for it to end? If only someone or something had prepared him for all this. But no one had, nor had any book around him been terribly helpful. The Lukes were mean and competitive, and the nongay books, except maybe Angela, didn’t care. They never thought about gay book issues, no matter how “tolerant” they were. Angela had good, straightforward advice about life, but even she was a “normal” book who’d had a normal marriage to another normal book. She could encourage and advise Bob, but from a distance. Was there no other book who, from long experience, could tell him what was going on and what he should do? What he could hope and not hope for?
I will warn readers that there is a bit of book infidelity in the story. I know not everyone likes that but you have to understand the precarious nature of life for these books. I’m sure you’ll find them just as charming and engaging as I did.