Completed 9/9/2015, Reviewed 9/10/2015
In “A Glossary of Literary Terms”, M. H. Abrams defines the beast fable as a short story or poem where animals talk. It is a form of allegorical writing where human behaviors and weaknesses are scrutinized by reflection into the animal kingdom. So what do you call a book about a book that talks to other books? A book fable. You see, Bob is a gay book, i.e. a book that is attracted to other books of the same gender. He falls in love with Moishe, but a calamity separates them. Through purchases and resellings, he begins a search to find Moishe. On his way he meets Angela, a widowed book, and Neil, a gay book that survived a book burning in Alabama. Together they reflect on life, relationships, and discrimination through their adventures as they pass from owner to owner. Sometimes, they can even talk to humans. Simply said, it’s a delight.
The brilliance of the book is in the characterization. The books don’t just have human thoughts and emotions, they have the basic characteristics of the type of book they are. Bob is an academic book about the male nude through the ‘60s and ‘70s from the cultural studies section of the book store, although he is often mistaken for soft porn because of all the photos. However he is academic, mature, and possibly a little snooty. Angela the widow is a warm, accepting English lady, as she is Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park”. There are self-help books that offer bits of daily wisdom, and self-absorbed Hollywood gossip magazines.
Besides the books, there are human characters. The main ones are Ron and Alfred, roommates but not partners, although a relationship like this is never quite that cut and dried. Through all the relationships, human and book, the author recounts and critiques the life experiences that many gay men encounter. Hence, the book fable.
If there’s one thing I found a little problematic, it’s the number of characters. With all the books and all their different owners as they pass hands, the names sometimes ran together for me. I often had to go back to rescan passages to make sure I knew if the person speaking was a book or a human.
Another thing to be aware of is that there is some graphic sex. However, it is all very relevant to the story as it is fable about the gay male experience. During those scenes, we experience joy and despair and sometimes horror, as do the humans and the books who of course are the unintentional witnesses and are just as affected by it as the humans.
I had a lot of fun with “Bob the Book” and was also very affected by the topics discussed. That’s why I gave it five stars out of five. Besides the basic reflections on life and the world, it makes you look at books a whole different way. A good friend of mine summed it up nicely when she said upon finishing it, “It makes me feel bad for all the books I’ve sold or given away”.