Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"Ex Libris" by Anne Fadiman

Summary: A collection of short essays from a book lover, on the strange relationship between book worms and their books.

Musings: Ex Libris is the perfect book for anyone with the idiosyncrasies of the book lover.  Fadiman herself is the archetypal book lover, with an enormous personal library, a career as a writer, and a family whose literature nerdiness knows no bounds.  Compared to Fadiman, I look like someone who's read nothing more than few trashy romances in her lifetime. But even though Fadiman is spectacularly well-read, she never comes off as condescending or pretentious.  Instead, her essays read like a true friend confessing her deep craziness about books--and what a joy it is to read Ex Libris as you, too, exclaim, "Yes, I feel the same! Let's be odd together!"  The essays have a conversational, humorous tone, and Fadiman expertly integrates her life with her knowledge of literature.

Of course, I had some favorite essays.  "The Joy of Sesquipedalians" explores the excitement of discovering a new-to-you word and the disappointment when your assertion that "no one" must know that word is proven wrong.  Fadiman herself has quite the vocabulary, and I'll admit I had to experience that feeling myself several times while reading the book.  "Never Do That to a Book" explores the book purists (never damage or deface a book in any way) and the book eaters (who love their literature through well-worn use).  I'll admit I learn toward the purist side (I hate when my husband uses a remote, for example, as a book mark--it's too big and will distort the pages!). "The His'er Problem" pits the feminist inside Fadiman (not favoring the masculine pronoun) against the grammarian (not standing for pronoun antecedent agreement error).  It's a quandary I face myself.

Ex Libris would be the perfect gift for any true book lover, and it's one that just screams to be shared.  In fact, I've already planned to give a copy of "The Joy of Sesquipedalians" to a student who talked about trying to keep a list of new-to-her vocabulary words in Jane Eyre before giving up after completely filling several pages, and I've emailed a former student telling her she must read several of these immediately!

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