Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman
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!