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Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by…
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Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (original 1998; edition 2000)

by Anne Fadiman

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3,2741511,678 (4.22)620
Member:elliepotten
Title:Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
Authors:Anne Fadiman (Author)
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2000), Paperback, 176 pages
Collections:Your library, Read in 2006, Read in 2012
Rating:****1/2
Tags:autobiography, essays, literature, books, books about books, Dewey Read-a-thon prize

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Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman (1998)

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English (145)  Spanish (2)  Norwegian (1)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (151)
Showing 1-5 of 145 (next | show all)
Anne Fadiman has often stated that she learned about sex from her father’s copy of Fanny Hill (correct title for this book is Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure) by John Cleland. Ex Libris (which is Latin for ‘from books’) is a collection of essays that recounts her life and her love affair with books. This collection of personal essays documents her life and those small problems only a fellow book lover would truly understand. Like when Anne and her husband finally decided to merge libraries five years into their marriage in the essay “Marrying Libraries”.

I have to admit, I love Anne Fadiman; she is the embodiment of everything I want to be as a reader. She is smart, witty, a little wry and can talk about books with great passion and intelligence. She does come across as pretentious and throws in some quotes in French just to show off, however her writing is so beautiful and she talks about books, not just as a personal experience but also includes some literary criticism.

This collection recounts a lifelong love affair she had with books; exploring the joys and passion that comes with being a book lover. I love how she talks about books in the form of personal essays; it gives me a whole new concept about writing. I obviously knew about personal essays in the past but something about this book just opened my eyes and made me think “I should be doing this”. The way she talks about her reading journey in a collection of connecting essays is wonderful; it turns the book not into a linear progression but rather focuses each essay on an experience or book.

You might have noticed that when I review books I tend to put a bit of my personal life and journey into the blog post. The style suits me and because I want to think of my book blog as a personal journal into my reading life, I feel it fits that theme. Anne Fadiman has a similar idea but in the form of essays and she puts my writing to shame; I now aspire to write as elegantly as she does with wit and beauty within each essay. I am nowhere near where I want to be but practise makes perfect; right?

This is the kind of collection I plan to read over and over again. I obviously love books and Anne Fadiman has obviously set the bar high for future books. I started reading memoirs from bibliophiles because I wanted to learn different ways to talk about books. Ex Libris has taught me so much more about books and just reminds me how much I love books about books. I have a whole heap of other memoirs to read and to be honest reading about people’s reading life has given me an appreciation for memoirs in general. I want to read more styles; not just readers but writers and then progress to other types of creativity. I remember starting the year struggling through non-fiction but it looks like I am ending this year with a completely new attitude towards them.

This review originally appeared on my blog: http://literary-exploration.com/2014/11/19/ex-libris-confessions-of-a-common-rea... ( )
  knowledge_lost | Nov 27, 2014 |
A lovely collection of essays about the joy of books and reading. Highly recommended. ( )
  cazfrancis | Nov 27, 2014 |
Thanks to all of the LT readers who brought this to my attention - I know this is a favorite for many around here and now it is for me as well. This is a slim book of personal essays on the love of reading, words, and books. Every book lover should read (and own) this book. There are eighteen essays included. I loved "Marrying Libraries" about the merging of Fadiman and her husband's books; "The Joy of Sesquipedalians" about the love of obscure words; "Never do that to a book" about the differences in how readers treat their books; "Inset a Carrot" about compulsive proofreading; "My Ancestral Castles" about family inheritances of books and love of reading; and "Secondhand Prose" about the magic of used books.

Fadiman beautifully weaves personal family experience as the daughter of book lovers, wife of a writer and book lover, and mother of children who she hopes will continue their love of books, together with history and anecdotes in these essays.

Highly recommended. ( )
  japaul22 | Nov 11, 2014 |
I recommend reading the Acknowledgements at the end of the book first. They provide an important perspective on the author, the book and the book's creation. All through reading these chapters (essays, really) I had a feeling of familiarity. Sure enough, these were originally articles for Civilization Magazine back when I was a subscriber. I think I have read most of these essays before.

Reading Ex Libris was like having an old friend over for tea and spending the afternoon catching up. The book starts with the marriage of two libraries and the culling of the collection. Here Fadiman introduces her audience to her love of books by describing all the all the memories associated with her (and her husband's) books.

Another great essays is "My Odd Shelf" in which Fadiman discusses not only some of her favorite odd ball books, but those of other historical figures. Her thesis is that any devoted reader will have an odd shelf. I know I do. My odd shelf includes books by Oliver Optic and a wonderful cat genetics book called Cats are Not Peas which is sadly now out of print.

I'm at odds with Fadiman over her essay "Never Do that to a Book." I have to agree with the chambermaid. It's best to use a bookmark! I could never dream of tearing a book apart as I read it (as I might want to reread it, or give it to someone else to read). I'm not keen on writing in books, though I do enjoy the opening inscriptions—they are the exception to the rule.

Finally the book closes in a fashion that would bring a smile to any avid reader, namely, a discussion of favorite used book stores and finds at those stores. She lovingly describes how her husband for her birthday took her to a used book store. She came away with nineteen pounds of books! Oh heaven!

Ex Libris is a book for readers—those crazy, devoted, empassioned ones. If I were to come across a second copy of Fadiman's book, I would have to add it to my odd shelf. ( )
  pussreboots | Aug 15, 2014 |
A beautiful inner journey for booklovers. I don't mean people who like to read. I mean booklovers. ( )
  makaaron | Aug 14, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 145 (next | show all)
The book is a modest, charming, lighthearted gambol among the stacks. It serves up neither ideas nor theories but anecdotes about the joys of collecting and reading books.
added by jburlinson | editSalon, Dan Cryer (Oct 7, 1998)
 
A terribly entertaining collection of personal essays about books, reading, language, and the endearing pathologies of those who love books.
added by jburlinson | editBoston Book Review, Patsy Baudoin (Jan 23, 1998)
 
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For Clifton Fadiman
and Annalee Jacoby Fadiman,
who built my ancestral castles
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Preface:
When the Irish novelist John McGahern was a child, his sisters unlaced and removed one of his shoes while he was reading.
A few months ago, my husband and I decided to mix our books together.
Quotations
Wake is just the right verb, because there is a certain kind of child who awakens from a book as from an abyssal sleep, swimming heavily up through layers of consciousness toward a reality that seems less real than the dream-state that has been left behind.
I, on the other hand, believe that books, maps, scissors, and Scotch tape dispensers are all unreliable vagrants, likely to take off for parts unknown unless strictly confined to quarters.
It has long been my belief that everyone's library contains an Odd Shelf. On this shelf rests a small, mysterious corpus of volumes whose subject matter is completely unrelated to the rest of the library, yet which, upon closer inspection, reveals a good deal about its owner.
Americans admire success. Englishmen admire heroic failure.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374527229, Paperback)

The subtitle of Anne Fadiman's slim collection of essays is Confessions of a Common Reader, but if there is one thing Fadiman is not, it's common. In her previous work of nonfiction, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, she brought both skill and empathy to her balanced exploration of clashing cultures and medical tragedy. The subject matter here is lighter, but imbued with the same fine prose and big heart. Ex Libris is an extended love letter to language and to the wonders it performs. Fadiman is a woman who loves words; in "The Joy of Sesquipedalians" (very long words), she describes an entire family besotted with them: "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." From very long words it's just a short jump to literature, and Fadiman speaks joyfully of books, book collecting, and book ownership ("In my view, nineteen pounds of old books are at least nineteen times as delicious as one pound of fresh caviar"). In "Marrying Libraries" Fadiman describes the emotionally fraught task of merging her collection with her husband's: "After five years of marriage and a child, George and I finally resolved that we were ready for the more profound intimacy of library consolidation. It was unclear, however, how we were to find a meeting point between his English-garden approach and my French-garden one." Perhaps some marriages could not have stood the strain of such an ordeal, but for this one, the merging of books becomes a metaphor for the solidity of their relationship.

Over the course of 18 charming essays Fadiman ranges from the "odd shelf" ("a small, mysterious corpus of volumes whose subject matter is completely unrelated to the rest of the library, yet which, upon closer inspection reveals a good deal about its owner") to plagiarism ("the more I've read about plagiarism, the more I've come to think that literature is one big recycling bin") to the pleasures of reading aloud ("When you read silently, only the writer performs. When you read aloud, the performance is collaborative"). Fadiman delivers these essays with the expectation that her readers will love and appreciate good books and the power of language as much as she does. Indeed, reading Ex Libris is likely to bring up warm memories of old favorites and a powerful urge to revisit one's own "odd shelf" pronto. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:53:21 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Ex Libris recounts a lifelong love affair with books and language. For Fadiman, as for many passionate readers, the books she loves have become chapters in her own life story. Writing with remarkable grace, she revives the tradition of the well-crafted personal essay, moving easily from anecdotes about Coleridge and Orwell to tales of her own pathologically literary family. As someone who played at blocks with her father's twenty-two-volume set of Trollope ("My Ancestral Castles") and who considered herself truly married only when she and her husband had merged collections ("Marrying Libraries"), she is exquisitely well equipped to expand upon the art of flyleaf inscriptions, the perverse pleasures of compulsive proofreading, the allure of long words, and the satisfactions of reading aloud.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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