Anne Fadiman,
Ex Libris:
Confessions of a Common Reader

(Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1998)

As an acknowledged biblioholic, I was intrigued by the premise of this book -- essays about books and reading by a fellow book addict. I was not disappointed at all! Anne Fadiman's essays are clear, humorous and enjoyable, ringing true as I recognized my own foibles about reading.

Her first essay, "Marrying Libraries," explores the emotional time in a relationship between booklovers: when to mix the books and remove the doubles. Despite years of togetherness, it took quite a while for Fadiman and her beloved to leap this emotional and psychological hurdle. Determining which of the doubles would stay or go was a delightful portrait of meaningfulness and memories.

She discusses the joys and mysteries of unknown words, her own odd shelf of books (every reader has one!), sonnet writing, and the proper care and feeding of books. Her essays roam the gamut of literary and word addiction from describing an antiquated woman's household hint and cookbook in "True Womanhood" to the hunting of elusive writings in used and antique bookstores in "Secondhand Prose." Inscribing books, reading books dedicated to places, pronunciation and compulsive copyediting are all aptly and wittily described in Fadiman's essays.

Her loving depiction of a favorite pen and how it influences her writing is the focus of "Eternal Ink." This essay reminded me of Anne Frank's diary entry on the same subject. "The Literary Glutton" describes the introduction of fine literature to a child, albeit as a teething ring, and food writing in general. It made me laugh, thinking of the literal meaning of "cutting one's teeth" on good books and good food. Fadiman pokes gentle fun at compulsive footnoting and attribution in "Nothing New Under the Sun."

She also addresses the addiction of words and the need to always have something to read, even if it is instructions to the Water Pik, in "The Catalogical Imperative." Having been the victim of such an obsession, I could completely relate to her words. I could also relate to the family history of reading in "My Ancestral Castles" and the joys of reading out loud in "Sharing the Mayhem." Secondhand books, in particular and in general, are the subjects of her two final essays. "The P.M.'s Empire of Books" explains Fadiman's relationship with one specific book, On Books and the Housing of Them. The love of hunting in secondhand bookshops is shown in "Secondhand Prose" with the pleasure of discovery and history combined.

I enjoyed this book so much that I bought it as gifts for other readers. If there is a book addict that you know, Ex Libris makes an excellent gift on any occasion.

[ by Beth Derochea ]

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