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EX LIBRIS by Anne Fadiman

EX LIBRIS

Confessions of a Common Reader

By Anne Fadiman

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-374-14860-0
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Award-winning journalist and editor Fadiman (The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, 1997) comes from a bookish family (her father is Clifton Fadiman). And part of the charm of these collected personal essays about books and book-loving is the way she adhesively, casually, playfully chronicles her family through its books and bibliomania. An essay about the devoted reader’s compulsive love of proofreading opens novelistically with the Fadiman parents and their adult children sitting down to a restaurant dinner and, as their preferred first course, passionately—helplessly?—correcting the menu’s typos. As a reporter who is here making a transition to the first-person essayist’s voice, Fadiman (also the new editor of the American Scholar) maintains a sparkling sense of story, whether the stories tell us about her or about someone else. And her book shows an impish range in subject. In “Never Do That to a Book,” she comments on hard uses made of books: how we’re wont to scribble in them, even teethe on them. “My Odd Shelf” discusses that part of a bibliomaniac’s library dedicated to the anomalous fervent hobby (for George Orwell, it was “ladies’ magazines from the 1860s, which he liked to read in his bathtub.” Fadiman’s own odd shelf holds volumes about the history of polar explorations, and she retells some of these sagas in admirably vivid and unadorned style. At times, the origin of the essays as commissioned pieces for the author’s column in Civilization magazine does restrict their scope: they seem too brief, glib, coy, or intellectually unventuresome. As a self-described romantic whose imagination lauds the Victorians and seems jovially (and delightfully) anachronistic, Fadiman comes across sometimes as an escapist unwilling to examine the terms of her escape or to question them. Instead, she’s intelligently entertained by books—and she’s entertaining.