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About us
 A web magazine of essay, opinion, literature, culture, and politics, published by the New York State Writers Institute based at the University at Albany.

- Editor: Paul Grondahl

- Executive Editor: William Kennedy

- Managing Editor: Michael Huber

- Contributing Editors: Cassie Andrusz Ho-Ching and Edward Schwarzschild

NYS Writer Instiute
Trolley, Spring 2019

Pamela Paul visited the New York State Writers Institute at the University at Albany in April to talk about her memoir, My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues.

Bob is her "book of books," a journal of every book Paul read (or started reading) since high school. It's been her constant companion for three decades, a coffee-stained and frayed love letter to books that entered her life at different stages, from nerdy teen to day job as perhaps the world's most influential book reviewer, editor of The New York Times Book Review.

Pamela Paul and Paul Grondahl, NYS Writers Institutem, April 2019

Pamela Paul and Writers Institute Director Paul Grondahl at the University at Albany. (Patrick Dodson / UAlbany)

"As a book lover it’s the dream job," said Paul, who still refers to books as magical things. 

So what is this hold books have on us?

Not all of us, I should say. One in four Americans haven’t read a book in the past year. For the other 75%, it may be that reading satisfies some primal need for safe harbor in turbulent times. "When the dominant culture goes low, the saviors of our senses go high," writes Timothy Egan in a recent New York Times column, "The Comeback of the Century: Why the book endures, even in an era of disposable digital culture.

For our third edition of Trolley, we asked readers to tell us a story about their favorite book. 


Readers responded. The 20 contributors represent a cross-section of the ages and audiences that fill seats at Writers Institute events: community members, authors, University at Albany professors, staff, and students. They shared stories of iconic writers and poets -- Tolstoy, Orwell, Mary Oliver, Langston Hughes -- as well as more recent writers whose words make a lasting connection.


Some Trolley writers describe not just the emotional impact, but the physical feel of books they held decades ago. Pamela Paul describes this tender and visceral attraction in My Life with Bob:

“My sort wants the book in its entirety. We need to touch it, to examine the weight of its paper and the way text is laid out on the page. People like me open books and inhale the binding, favoring the scents of certain glues over others, breathing them in like incense even as the chemicals poison our brains. We consume them.”

We hope you enjoy these stories about some of our favorite reads. Thank you for visiting.


-- Michael Huber 

NYS Writers Institute, May 20, 2019

The Trolley bookshelf

Let serendipity guide you: Click on a selection on our bookshelf.


"It started consuming me after college and when I was in the army. I was devouring everybody on the shelf, and even into the sixties I would have thirty or forty books out of the library and I wanted to read them all. ”

William Kennedy

"People without hope not only don’t write novels, but what is more to the point, they don’t read them. They don’t take long looks at anything, because they lack the courage. The way to despair is to refuse to have any kind of experience, and the novel, of course, is a way to have experience.”


Flannery O'Connor

"Reading is a form of prayer, a guided meditation that briefly makes us believe we're someone else, disrupting the delusion that we're permanent and at the center of the universe. Suddenly (we're saved!) other people are real again, and we're fond of them.”

George Saunders

"What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”

Anne Lamott

"Be with me, words, a little longer; you
have given me my quitclaim in the sun,
sealed shut my adolescent wounds, made light
of grownup troubles, turned to my advantage
what in most lives would be pure deficit,
and formed, of those I loved, more solid ghosts."

John Updike

"Life is not what one lived, but what One remembers and how One remembers it in order to recount it.”

Gabriel García Márquez

"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one." 

George R.R. Martin

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