Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
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.
dedicated the book to “Melville Jacoby, his wife Annalee,” and two other journalists, “partly so they won’t charge me with grand larceny.”36 As soon as I read the Times article, I telephoned Larry Bergreen, with whom I’d gone to college, and told him about Men on Bataan. He told me that several other people, including an emeritus professor at the University of Chi cago, had already called to report that, over the years, Her sey had lifted their words as well.37 Hersey, whom Larry had always
Miracle Bra from Victoria’s Secret, but she’s equally partial to her twelve-point nickel-chrome moly steel crampons from Campmor. In fact, her husband gets particularly excited when she wears both of these items simultaneously. Anne S.’s husband was unavailable for comment—he was on the phone with The Sharper Image, ordering her an Ultrasonic Wave Cleaner whose 42,000-wave-per-second piezo transducer will automatically bubble microdirt off her diamond bra—so I interviewed Anne F.’s husband
had on occasion triaged half the mailbox—my catalogues!—directly into the trash can. I counter-confessed that I had decided to write this essay just so that whenever he caught me reading a catalogue, I could say I was doing research. I think I read catalogues for the same reason George stuffs himself with hors d’oeuvres at cocktail parties: they’re free. How can he justify going out for sushi when all those lukewarm pigs-in-blankets are there for the taking? Similarly, how can I justify a stroll
attempt to reach the North Pole by ship. The edges were unopened. As I slit them with an unpracticed fingernail, I was overcome with melancholy. These beautiful volumes had been published in 1897, and not a single person had read them. I had the urge to lend them to as many friends as possible in order to make up for all the caresses they had missed during their first century. “Alas,” wrote Henry Ward Beecher. “Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore!” Mine is relatively strong at
Jean de La Bruyère, Les Caractères (1688): “We come too late to say anything which has not been said already.”La Bruyère probably stole his line from Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (1621): “We can say nothing but what hath been said.” Burton probably stole his line from Terence’s Eunuchus (161 R.C.): “Nothing is said that has not been said before.” I stole the idea of comparing these four lines from a footnote in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. 2 Actually, I’ve never eaten anything Dan