Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Book Review: Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader

Anne Fadiman
Publication: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (November 25, 2000)

Description: Perfectly balanced between humor and erudition, Ex Libris establishes Anne Fadiman as one of our finest contemporary essayists.

Anne Fadiman is--by her own admission--the sort of person who learned about sex from her father's copy of Fanny Hill, whose husband buys her 19 pounds of dusty books for her birthday, and who once found herself poring over her roommate's 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only written material in the apartment that she had not read at least twice.

This witty collection of essays recounts a lifelong love affair with books and language. For Fadiman, as for many passionate readers, the books she loves have become chapters in her own life story. Writing with remarkable grace, she revives the tradition of the well-crafted personal essay, moving easily from anecdotes about Coleridge and Orwell to tales of her own pathologically literary family. As someone who played at blocks with her father's 22-volume set of Trollope ("My Ancestral Castles") and who only really considered herself married when she and her husband had merged collections ("Marrying Libraries"), she is exquisitely well equipped to expand upon the art of inscriptions, the perverse pleasures of compulsive proof-reading, the allure of long words, and the satisfactions of reading out loud. There is even a foray into pure literary gluttony--Charles Lamb liked buttered muffin crumbs between the leaves, and Fadiman knows of more than one reader who literally consumes page corners.

My Thoughts: This collection of essays illuminates Anne Fadiman's love of books and shows how books have influenced and infused her life. She covers a wide range of topics from her own curiosity about Arctic explorers especially the Victorian failures to her family's obsession with proofreading. 

Essays about merging her library and her husband's library after their marriage and about the care and treatment of books were my favorites. While she and I have different feelings about writing in books, I do share the habit of leaving books face down and sprawled open as I'm reading them. The idea that using a bookmark indicates a stop while leaving the book open and facedown indicates a pause is one I hadn't had before but do agree with. 

I don't share her feelings about used books and really don't want to find someone else's crumbs in the gutter of a book but can understand how they could appeal to some other different reader. Nor do we read the same sort of books. "Literary" and "Classics" are phrases that lead me to look for some different book while they seem to draw her in. 

All in all, I enjoyed this book. Fadiman's love for books shone clearly through each page. 

Favorite Quote:
But why do I receive catalogues devoted exclusively to salsa, equestrian gear, electric grills, extra-large clothes, extra-small clothes, tours to sites at which UFO's have landed, and resin reproductions of medieval gargoyles? Do these companies know something about me that I don't know?
I bought this one October 25, 2009. You can buy your copy here.

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