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. Perfectly balanced between humor and erudition, Ex Libris establishes Fadiman as one of our finest contemporary essayists.
This is a book about books. Like Anne Fadiman, I love books about books. But a book about essays about books? Not so much up my alley. I’m a book nerd, don’t get me wrong. But the Fadiman family breathe books, and they take them kind of weirdly seriously.
Each essay focused on some book related topic. From words, to bookshelf organisation, to the desperate need to read, this book covered it all. Some topics I related to perfectly. Bookshelf organisation is something very important, that should be done with the utmost care. It was kind of sweet seeing her and her husband argue about the right way to do it, and how they went so many years having separate shelves. I think I would be like that too. My books are some of my most prized possessions, and I don’t want ANYONE to tamper with them. So it was cool reading about someone who made a career of being as uptight about books as I am. Then there were the weirder ones… For example, the one about typos. Anne and her family hate hate HATE typos. Her mother had a folder of typos from a particular newspaper she read so she could send them back and make a complaint. Then, they’d look down on anyone who wasn’t the same. Honestly, this book made me feel stupid. The Fadiman’s only associated with book people, and they looked down on anyone who wasn’t a book person. The author’s every word expressed her disgust for people who didn’t agree with what she was saying. And. I. Hated. It.
So honestly, I wouldn’t recommend this. It wasn’t a bad book, but I wish it had been written by a different author. Someone who’s more open to everyone’s different reading styles and tastes, and who didn’t make assumptions that we understood her every reference. I’ve been reading a lot of disappointing books recently, and I’m just going to add this one to the list