Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman

April 8, 2010 at 12:05 am 5 comments

There was a lot of pressure on my reading of this slim book of essays. My co-blogger, Corey, has enthusiastically proclaimed that this is her favorite book of all time, eclipsing even Little Women (a high honor indeed). What happened if I didn’t like it? I wondered. Could we ever discuss books again? Clearly our friendship would be irreparably damaged. So, when I finally picked up my copy at the library, it was with no small amount of trepidation that I opened to the first page and began to read.

I shouldn’t have worried. Anne Fadiman is, quite simply, one of today’s best writers. I have a pet theory that journalists make the best writers of any sort, as journalism teaches discipline, brevity, and the importance of choosing exactly the right word. Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Samuel Clemens, and Earnest Hemingway were all reporters, along with many more authors I can’t think of right now. Fadiman chooses the perfect word in every instance; the brevity of her essays exactly suits her straightforward, honest writing style, and while reading I felt as though I was having a conversation with a remarkably eloquent friend.

The subject matter, too, was perfect. I now feel justified in cracking my book spines, turning down corners, and writing in margins — I’m merely what Fadiman calls a carnal book lover, rather than a courtly one. I no longer have to feel guilty for proofreading menus and street signs — Fadiman does the same thing.

I sympathized with her when she wrote about how hard it was to combine her library with her new husband’s, and nodded knowingly when she talked about “miscellaneous” books that every reader has at least one shelf of. I found myself wanting to tell her about my beloved copy of Great Expectations that got caught in a rainstorm, was dragged to London and back in the bottom of a backpack, and written all over during the course of my thesis. Fadiman would surely appreciate the love and effort that went into the color-coding and annotating of my copy of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, even though those annotations have pretty much eaten the margins.

The whole book felt as though Fadiman wrote it just to tell me that it’s okay to love words and books as much as I do. It is definitely a new favorite of mine, and it’s sure to be a favorite of anyone who loves books as much as Fadiman does. Surely it can find a place on your miscellaneous shelf, at least!

– KT


Entry filed under: Non-fiction. Tags: , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Corey  |  April 8, 2010 at 10:51 am

    I don’t know what to say aside from agreeing with you that Anne Fadiman is, indeed, one of the best author out there today. (Perhaps the very best if you ask me!) And I am absolutely delighted you liked it; there was some pressure with this one!

  • 2. Aishwarya  |  April 14, 2010 at 10:19 am

    This actually is on one of my miscellaneous shelves! I love the book – there’s something incredibly comforting about reading things written by People Like Me.

    • 3. KT  |  April 14, 2010 at 10:30 am

      Oh, definitely! I was reading this on the bus and found myself smiling and nodding at particular passages — which resulted in a few strange looks from the other passengers, as you can imagine.

  • […] are plenty of authors I love, and I’ve written paeans to favorite authors (Ruth Reichl and Anne Fadiman leap to mind). But oddly, though I wrote a short biography on this woman, I’ve never really […]

  • […] interested enough to delve in and includes just two other books: Anne Fadiman’s perfect Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader and the thoughtful Only Child: Writers on the Singular Joys and Solitary Sorrows of Growing Up Solo […]


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