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Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader [Hardcover]

Anne Fadiman
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)

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Book Description

29 April 1999
This witty collection of essays recounts a lifelong love affair with books and language. Writing with humour and erudition, Fadiman moves easily from anecdotes about Coleridge and Orwell to tales of her own pathologically literary family.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; First Edition edition (29 April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713993154
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713993158
  • Product Dimensions: 18.4 x 13.8 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 260,642 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

The subtitle of Anne Fadiman's slim collection of essays is Confessions of a Common Reader, but if there is one thing Fadiman is not, it's common. In her previous work of non-fiction, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, she brought both skill and empathy to her balanced exploration of clashing cultures and medical tragedy. The subject matter here is lighter, but imbued with the same fine prose and big heart. Ex Libris is an extended love letter to language and to the wonders it performs. Fadiman is a woman who loves words; in "The Joy of Sesquipedalians" (very long words), she describes an entire family besotted with them:
When I was growing up, not only did my family walk around spouting sesquipedalians, but we viewed all forms of intellectual competition as a sacrament, a kind of holy water as it were, to be slathered on at every opportunity.
From very long words it's just a short jump to literature, and Fadiman speaks joyfully of books, book collecting and book ownership ("In my view, 19 pounds of old books are at least 19 times as delicious as one pound of fresh caviar"). In "Marrying Libraries" Fadiman describes the emotionally fraught task of merging her collection with her husband's:
After five years of marriage and a child, George and I finally resolved that we were ready for the more profound intimacy of library consolidation. It was unclear, however, how we were to find a meeting point between his English-garden approach and my French-garden one.
Perhaps some marriages could not have stood the strain of such an ordeal, but for this one, the merging of books becomes a metaphor for the solidity of their relationship. Over the course of 18 charming essays Fadiman ranges from the "odd shelf" ("a small, mysterious corpus of volumes whose subject matter is completely unrelated to the rest of the library, yet which, upon closer inspection reveals a good deal about its owner") to plagiarism ("the more I've read about plagiarism, the more I've come to think that literature is one big recycling bin") to the pleasures of reading aloud ("When you read silently, only the writer performs. When you read aloud, the performance is collaborative"). Fadiman delivers these essays with the expectation that her readers will love and appreciate good books and the power of language as much as she does. Indeed, reading Ex Libris is likely to bring up warm memories of old favourites and a powerful urge to revisit one's own "odd shelf" pronto. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Anne Fadiman is editor of The American Scholar and an award-winning journalist. Her first book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down won the US National Book Critics Circle Award for Non-Fiction. She lives in New York City. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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A few months ago, my husband and I decided to mix our books together. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lovely book for book lovers 24 Jan 2004
Format:Paperback
This short volume is ideal reading for any bibliophile. It contains eighteen essays, each six to eight pages in length – perfect for filling an otherwise idle ten minutes or so. Each one is unfailingly well written, funny and learned, and Fadiman is a lucid and likeable writer.
The essays are about the buying, collecting, organizing and reading of books – particularly engaging examples concern Fadiman and her husband finally deciding to combine their separate libraries; the various ways of marking a page (do you mark it with an object – and if so, what type of object? – or do you simply leave the book face down at the page?); the ‘Odd Shelf’ in one’s personal library (Fadiman describes the ‘Odd Shelf’ as ‘a small, mysterious corpus of volumes whose subject matter is completely unrelated to the rest of the library, yet which, upon closer inspection, reveals a good deal about its owner’); and the revealing nature of book inscriptions.
An especially attractive feature of the essays is how they reveal Fadiman’s bibliophilia not as a replacement for other emotional attachments (not an unknown characteristic of bibliophiles), but as highlighting the strength of her relationships with her husband, children, parents and friends. Ex Libris is an intensely human book about a relationship with objects.
Very enjoyable.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short and sweet ... too short! 16 Jun 2004
Format:Paperback
This is far too short for such a delicious book. Now that I've finished reading it, I feel like an elephant who's been fed a small bowl of strawberries. Here are eighteen essays about loving books and the ostensibly eccentric behaviour of the book-besotted book-lover. I imagine anyone who would read this sort of book would probably identify with a fair number of the thoughts, feelings and activities Anne Fadiman confesses to in these essays. I confess to sharing some and aspiring to others. Also, I confess to envying the writer her wonderful, understanding, affectionate, bookish family. It took me about three weeks to read this small book, because I decided to ration myself to one essay per day, before going to work. It put me in a cheerful and contented state of mind and set me up for the day. Now I'm going to have to start it again.
I recommend this delightful and beautifully written book to anyone who loves books. You might like to have a good dictionary beside you when reading it. My vocabulary wasn't up to the job but my dictionary was on hand and now my vocabulary is a little bulkier than it was when I started.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you love books, you'll love EX LIBRIS 10 April 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
As a rival publisher, it galls me to have to admit that this is a superb book - one that I would have loved to have published myself! For anyone remotely interested in books and reading, this is a must. Anne Fadiman writes warmly and wittily, and quite exquisitely, about her and her family's love of the written word. Definitely a book to keep by your bedside and one which you'll turn to again and again.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Book About Books... In Parts 3 Dec 2009
By Simon Savidge Reads TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Anne Fadiman is a journalist and writer who comes from strong literary genes. Her father Clifton Fadiman is a literary critic and personality, her mother is an author. She is even married to an author (the first essay in this collection is a funny piece about the merging or marrying of two peoples book collections as it appears they are both book hoarders - I liked them instantly) so she is definitely about the books and about words. Ex Libris is a collection of essays which mingle memories and book thoughts from her life in the past and current perspective.

When I know a book is meant to be a book about books, I want it to be just that. Plain and simply I want book thoughts, book thoughts and more book thoughts. This doesn't quite happen as much as you would think with this novel. In fact I would say the book is more a celebration of words both written and writing. There's an essay on sonnets, some feminist essays and a few on writing, grammar and words. The thing is though I didn't mind these slightly of the book subject essays because through her words I liked Anne Fadiman so much and wanted to read more about her. There are some great essays on books inside such as the marrying of books I mentioned before. She looks at reading in the places books are set, second-hand book buying joy (I am all for that) and you do leave with a list of books you want to read so all in all job accomplished.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book lover's treasure. 17 Feb 2003
Format:Paperback
There is a certain type of person who will fill their house with books. A certain type of person who knows the smell of old, dusty books in a second-hand bookshop - the smell of old hardbacks, a slightly acid, starchy smell with a jint of dust and leather. There is a certain type of person who will read junk mail, catalogues or even the writing on a pack of candy rather than be left wordless. There is a type of person who loves the feel of words in the mouth. Anne Fadiman is one of those people, and everyone who loves books will feel a flicker of recognition with every one of the essays contained in this volume.
I bought my copy in the British Library, and read it in the cafe there, facing a wall of books that I was itching to be allowed to feel and finger. Her reminisces of the colour of books (Roald Dahl was always mauve, for instance) made me feel suddenly more aware of how books stir many more senses than you'd expect. Another essay on combining libraries with a lover is more like a poem on the nature of long-term love than an account of a dry process.
This volume is indeed slim, but every sentence is precious and every essay revealing. This book will inspire your own reading and make you realise things that you always knew about books and words ina beautiful way. Essential for all bibliophiles.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A treasure of a book
A treasure of a book. A friend gave me my copy a number of years ago and I go back and re-read it from time to time with renewed delight. Read more
Published 3 months ago by E BAKER
1.0 out of 5 stars The Patti Smith of literature
It is difficult to read more than a page of this book at a time, hence I can thoroughly recommend it as toilet entertainment for anyone free of constipation. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Rmg De La Bedoyere
5.0 out of 5 stars If you love books, read this one!
This book has been a great favourite of mine over many years, and I buy it as a modest gift for other book lovers. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Mrs. V. Hooley
5.0 out of 5 stars A Delight for the Booklover
In this series of short essays Anne Fadiman expresses her love of books, words, stories and people. She is clearly erudite and well-read. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Paul Sloane
1.0 out of 5 stars Should not be a book at all
This is a collection of essays originally in the New Yorker. I came to it with great enthusiasm but after 3 chapters was heartily relieved it was so short. Read more
Published on 21 Feb 2012 by JUDITH
4.0 out of 5 stars Superb
Not surprising that there are already many other reviews because this short book (whose length is perfectly judged) has much to attract many booklovers of all persuasions. Read more
Published on 16 Dec 2011 by Stephen Bishop
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for book lovers
This slim volume (only 130 pages) is a delightful collection of essays about books and Anne Fadiman's love for them covering topics as diverse as combining libraries on marriage,... Read more
Published on 5 April 2011 by H. M. Holt
4.0 out of 5 stars Charming confessions of a book lover
Author and literary editor Anne Fadiman initially wrote the 18 chapters of this 120 page book in the form of separate essays. Read more
Published on 13 Mar 2011 by Adrenalin Streams
2.0 out of 5 stars Figmental
Teeth-clenchingly cringeworthy. I forgive it for Never Do That to a Book (all of 6 pages), and Marrying Libraries is not bad. For the rest, I'd better not go there! Read more
Published on 8 Jan 2011 by Simon Barrett
5.0 out of 5 stars pure indulgence
This is a book for book lovers that could just as easily be called a quirky book for quirky people. It is a book about liking books rather than actual, specific books. Read more
Published on 27 Nov 2010 by Copycreate
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