I first came across Anne Fadiman some years ago via her book of reflections on reading, "Ex Libris". I enjoyed that little book more than its size would suggest, and when I read a review of At Large and Small I was intrigued enough to buy a copy. I found that it contains a collection of essays on a wide range of subjects, from the ice-cream to butterfly collecting, from the esssays of Charles Lamb to the dominance of correspondence by email. This is definitely a book for someone who like reading intelligent musings on a miscellany of topics, and although the essays are essentially light and amusing, most readers will learn something interesting along the way.
As I read it, I began to wonder how this differed from a newspaper column, or even an Internet blog. After all, there are countless coloumnists who write reflectively in the Sunday supplements or the weekly magazines, and even more bloggers who put their thoughts down almost daily on anything that comes across their path. In the end, I felt that Anne Fadiman's essays are perhaps written over a longer period and took longer in the gestation, giving them a depth and consistency across the topics which other media writers may not achieve.
Ann Fadiman is of course highly qualified to write such a book, being Writer-In-Residence at Yale University. The books closes with a comprehensive list of academic references and other notes, and suggests that this is rather more than chance ramblings, but a well-researched set of thoughts born out of a long period of reflection.
The books is beautifully produced, and perhaps this is part of its appeal. Its not a book to hurry through, but rather one to make last over several weeks, and return to again and again. Any book-lover would appreciate it on their shelves, and it would make an unusual gift for anyone who likes reading and is prepared to try something a little different.