"Ex Libris - Confessions of a Common Reader"

Ex Libris - Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

The front flap of this book describes Anne Fadiman as "the sort of person who leared about sex from her father's copy of 'Fanny Hill'" and "who once found herself pouring over a 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only written material in her apartment that she had not read at least twice". I was tickled to find someone whose reading obsession looked similar to mine.

I too got some basic education from a copy of Fanny Hill, not my father's but one a friend and I found in her mother's apartment when I was thirteen. A memorable education but not one I'd recommend. And like Fadiman I've found myself reading the most absurd things when nothing else was available. In Doctor's offices I've read business magazines, children's books and pamphlets on illnesses I don't have. I've read manuals for electronics, appliances and cars, odd volumes of encyclopedias and just last week I read through a credit card application brochure because it was the only piece of paper in a cheerless little hospital waiting room. Desperate isn't it?

Fortunately no desperation is required for "Ex Libris". It's a joy to read, a veritable treasure trove of bookishness. Written as a series of essays over a number of years it chronicles the authour's experience with books in conjunction with life events. It's intriguing and yet so natural you wonder how you could ever have looked at the books you've read in any other way.

The stories here include: how she and her husband merged their libraries, what books she relegates to her "odd shelf", her opinion on writing in margins and dog-earring pages, her passion for inscriptions, something she calls "you-are-there" reading, books about food, and a chapter on her literary heritage. Each one is interesting on it's own but together they are something special. The lucky reader is steeped in books. It's very satisfying.

The writing too is something special. The publisher says she writes "with remarkable grace" and I can't think of any better way to say it. Her writing is light and fun but also grounded in solid intellect and education. I do suggest keeping a dictionary handy; I found 34 words to look up. At first I thought she was throwing words around a bit pretentiously, but I've changed my mind. She doesn't seem pretentious at all. I think she's simply using the words she knows. I hope I'm not misreading her.

The bonus with this book is a long list of titles to add to your tbr (unless of course you have read them all, and if you have why aren't you spending your time on something smarter than my poor little blog?). There's a whole section on 'books about books', the Dom PĂ©rignon of genres for those with serious book thirst.

I was quite taken with a line she quoted from Thomas Mcauley (of whom I had never heard): "What a blessing it is to love books as I love them.". He has hit the nail on the head (do people still say that?). I am grateful for the books I have and those I can borrow from libraries and friends, but I have never thought to offer thanks for the way I feel about books and reading. How different would my life have been if I hadn't had Dickens, Austen, Lewis or Cather to lose myself in when I didn't want to be found? How much trouble did I stay out of because in my youth I spent every spare minute with, as my mother used to say, "my head stuck in a book"?  I might have lost myself in other things and had a very different life. My need to read has enriched my life in countless ways and I am indeed grateful.

If you love books, you'll find Ex Libris irresistible. Get a hard cover copy if you can - you'll probably be using it a lot.


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