Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman

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Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A series of short essays on the subject of books. It's well-writen, witty and thought-provoking. Bookbag thinks that you should go out and buy it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 144 Date: March 2000
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
ISBN: 0140283706

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It was by the side of my bed when I last visited my daughter and I picked it up in the early hours of a June night when it was really too hot to sleep. At just 132 pages, eighteen short essays on the subject of books and some recommended reading it was just long enough to entertain me until the night cooled.

Many of the essays were originally published under the general heading of "The Common Reader" in "Civilization", the magazine of the Library of Congress. The editor asked only that they should be about Anne Fadiman's reading and directed at the general reader rather than the bibliophile.

It hit the spot with me straight away with an article about the time when Anne and her husband married their libraries - some time after they themselves had married. I know the agonies of deciding which of two books should be retained. It's not condition, but memories: a book is not just a collection of words. Each volume has its own history - who gave it, were and when it was read. This is a lady who loves her books and I could feel the agony of the decisions which had to be made.

(As an aside, my daughter told me that this book had come to her as a present when she lived in Nepal. Looking at the back of the book I found a sticker for "Giggles Biggest Little Bookshop Madras - India". Who could ever part with that piece of history?)

It's a love not just of books but of words too. There is a marvellous piece about the love of long or unusual words - The Joy of Sesquipedalians. It was bred in her though:

When I was growing up, not only did my family walk around spouting sesquipedalians, but we viewed all forms of intellectual competition as a sacrament, a kind of holy water as it were, to be slathered on at every opportunity.

Wonderful. The essay's an excellent illustration not just of how words have gone out of fashion but also of the way that language develops. After all, computers have spawned a whole new vocabulary which wasn't even dreamt of twenty years ago.

I was left chuckling at the essay on plagiarism - Nothing New Under the Sun. I laughed aloud as various statements were tracked through people who had claimed them as their own, some with more honesty than others. There are some surprising names in there - people who seem to regard the written word as theirs to harvest. Whilst I may not have copied that last phrase directly from Anne Fadiman's book she does express a similar sentiment: it's remarkably easy to get caught in the trap, you know! It's a sprightly, amusing piece with a savage indictment at the end.

I'll mention one other essay - that on catalogues - or I'll be in danger of committing the cardinal sin of writing a review which is longer than the book it's reviewing. Ms Fadiman (and she's very amusing on the subject of "Ms" in another essay) can't understand why she receives so many catalogues without having requested them. She can't resist reading them and believes that she must have an alter ego with a completely different lifestyle. I sympathised with her compulsion to read the catalogues and envied her ability to write such a witty, insightful piece.

I've just given you a taste of what's in the book. There isn't a common theme other than that books are always there and the subjects are wide-ranging. It might only be 132 pages of text but it will make you laugh, sigh and think. There isn't a wasted word and it's worth reading for the way that it's written if nothing else. I read it in about two hours. As I thought they were going to be two wasted, uncomfortable hours I was doubly-blessed.

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Buy Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman at Amazon.com.


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