Anthropomorphism works well in children’s books because a child’s concept of reality hasn’t been totally codified yet. The maturation process takes all the fun out of it and adults tend to put those works of art which practice it in the realm of “cute ‘n’ clever.” But David Pratt turns that around with his brilliant novel, Bob the Book.
Bob is, of course, a book—Private Pleasures: Myth and Representation in Male Photo Sets and Pornography from the Pre-Stonewall Era to1979 to be exact. No wonder he goes by Bob. He falls in love with his shelf-mate Moishe (Beneath the Tallis: The Hidden Lives of Gay and Bisexual Orthodox Jewish Men), but their affair is short-lived. They are bought by different customers and separated, beginning odysseys that circle used charity book bins, backpacks and academics until they come full circle. In between, Bob meets a wondrous array of fellow books, thoughtful (and thoughtless) owners and even reconciles himself to his author’s sequel, Luke (A Mirror Crack’d:Affirmation and Denial in Gay Male Pornography from 1980 to the Present).
As charming a concept as this may be, concepts are nothing without proper execution and Pratt delivers with flawless voice, three-dimensional characterization and genuine pathos. Take, for example, the story of Jerry (Christianity and Homosexuality: A New Perspective), a volume that forever carries the smell of smoke from the book burning he manages to survive. His re-telling of that incident is as chilling and involving as any human drama.
And there is much human drama here as well. Will roommates Alfred and Duane ever realize they love each other? Will the lonely Owen ever find love? These and other human relationships mirror and illuminate the bonds forged between their books. Pratt has crafted a wonder of a book that presents the reader with unique and telling twists on nearly every page. And just as soon as he has you smiling, he has you crying again—crying for the lost books consigned to bargain basement bins, saddled with humiliatingly low prices and forever doomed to be without owners.
Bob the Book is a novel for those of us who love books—their heft and feel and smell. Kindle editions and e-books are cold and ephemeral, existing only by virtue of battery power and charged readers. They may be the wave of the disposable future, but a real book will be solid and readable long after the Kindle runs down. Pratt never mentions these e-creations, but I can’t help thinking that this sly, knowing book was partially written in reaction to them.
In short, Bob the Book may just be the best thing I’ve read all year. Buy a copy and, after you’ve finished it, put in on your shelf next to a book you already love and see what happens.
You could be responsible for a beautiful relationship.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler