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Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader Paperback – 2 Mar 2000
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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
"A smart little book that one can happily welcome into the family and allow to start growing old." --Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "The New York Times"
"A book for bookworms . . . 18 stylish, dryly humorous essays"--"Entertainment Weekly"
A smart little book that one can happily welcome into the family and allow to start growing old. "Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times"
A book for bookworms . . . 18 stylish, dryly humorous essays "Entertainment Weekly""
A smart little book that one can happily welcome into the family and allow to start growing old. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times
A book for bookworms . . . 18 stylish, dryly humorous essays Entertainment Weekly"
"A smart little book that one can happily welcome into the family and allow to start growing old." --Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times
"A book for bookworms . . . 18 stylish, dryly humorous essays" --Entertainment Weekly--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. See all Product description
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All kinds of bookish behaviour is documented and explored within the eighteen essays. Some explore the various ways of shelving loved books - chronologically, alphabetically, by genre or some other method. Should your partner's books be merged with yours, and if so, when and how? Others look at the joy to be found in words - new words, magical words, complicated words. One discusses those books that just don't fit anywhere; one explores poetry; one entire essays explores the sinful habit of spread-eagling open books on a table instead of using a bookmark. One reflects on an ancient guide to womanhood and motherhood, hopelessly and terrifyingly out of date for a mother today. Some reflect on spelling, grammar, editing and storage. My favourite discusses the inscriptions made on the flyleaf of a book - and I have put extra thought into my own ever since! Recommended for book lovers everywhere.
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.
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.
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.
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