I Call Bullshit on Pamela Paul’s Book of Books

In a single month (September 1988 specifically), Pamela Paul, New York Times book reviewer and author of three books on marriage and parenting, claims to have read at least 15 books, a combination of some of the world’s greatest 19th Century and Modernist Lit, and a couple of not-so-classic books.

If you’re having a hard time reading the titles above, here they are:

The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn, The Red Badge of Courage, The Assistant, Heart of Darkness, Go Down Moses, The Turn of the Screw, The Dead, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Great Gatsby, Interview with the Vampire, No One Here Gets Out Alive, Breakfast of Champions, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Confessions of a Pretty Lady.

How could anyone possibly polish off Henry James and James Joyce and Conrad and Crane and Malamud and Lawrence and still think to themselves, “Yeah, my brain could definitely process those in a couple of days. What’s next?”

To be fair, I don’t actually think she’s lying, it’s more that I began a similar project of recording every book I’ve read in a huge Moleskine tome I bought in Florence because I was feeling romantic and literary and bored, and I’m lucky if I knock off a book a week. This list is both insane and intimidating, but you also wonder what she’s been reading for the last 24 years if she blasted through this many classics in one go.

Even if I have a touch of size envy, I do like keeping my own list. I back it up on Goodreads and Librarything because I’m practical about the likelihood of my losing this record, but it’s nice to have a journal that essentially shows what I was interested in or trying to be interested in at different points in my life.

One thing Paul says is that she was always unable to keep an actual journal, and I believe J.K. Rowling once said that she just found herself too boring to bother writing down her experiences all the time. I’m pretty much the same. Every once in a while I decide that I need to start recording my life, then promptly become bored with it and decide to spend my time reading a story I haven’t heard before.

What about you all? Do you keep a record of the books you read, or do you journal? Scrapbook? Quilt? Mosaic? Fingerpaint, etc.?

12 thoughts on “I Call Bullshit on Pamela Paul’s Book of Books

  1. I keep my books updated in a journal and on goodreads. I’ve definitely read 15 books in a month this year, but none of them as ridiculous as her list. I just really love reading so I eat my way through books. I wouldn’t want to read Joyce and Conrad in one month though, I’d rather spend a day canning corn or something. It sounds too much and what are you really getting?

    • The one issue I have with Goodreads, compared to, say, a hard copy or Library Thing, is that I feel like it just “piles” the books rather than listing them.

      With that said, Goodreads has what is undeniably the most attractive interface.

      I also agree vis a vis not “scarfing” good lit. You can’t get anything out of The Turn of the Screw if you skim it.

  2. My booklist would be unimpressive (at least from a “literary” standpoint. ) I read a lot of STephen King, CLive Barker, James Rollins. ANd literary ppl can often be “snobbish” when it comes to popular fiction. LOLz

      • Plus I think a lot of popular fiction writers are undervalued for their “literary” merit because their themes I guess are not “worldly” enough. ~rolls eyes~ I have learned SO much from King as a writer, but he is scoffed at by the book snobs. 😉

  3. Well, I don’t know if Paul was telling the truth and I don’t know how fast she reads and I don’t know how much of a skimmer she is. But, a lot of these books are pretty short. Her Joyce and James selections are as easy as they come for those two. “Heart of Darkness” is a novella. “Gatsby” moves at a good clip and is not long. If she just read the story “Go Down Moses” not all of the stories in the book by the same title, she saved a bunch of time. In my opinion, you can read every third page of a Lawrence novel and not miss anything. The list seem possible, in any case. If she had claimed to have read “Infinite Jest” and “Atlas Shrugged” in the same two week period, I’d think she was teasing us.

    • Fair enough — and I do hope that I made it clear that I don’t completely think she’s BS-ing, I’m mostly just jealous at her accomplishment. It’s also incredibly possible that she was either in Grad school at the time, or was taking a month off. If I had a month off completely from school and work, I’d be a reading fiend.

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