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Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by…

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

by Anne Fadiman (Author)

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3,1961451,744 (4.22)602
Title:Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
Authors:Anne Fadiman (Author)
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2000), Paperback, 176 pages
Collections:Read but unowned, Read in 2006, Read in 2012
Tags:autobiography, essays, literature, books, books about books

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


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Showing 1-5 of 139 (next | show all)
This is the second time I've read this collection of essays about books and reading. Just as much fun the second time around! I'm glad my book club picked it as one of this month's choices. ( )
  librarymary09 | May 24, 2014 |
This is the second time I've read this collection of essays about books and reading. Just as much fun the second time around! I'm glad my book club picked it as one of this month's choices. ( )
  librarymary09 | May 24, 2014 |
I am vacillating between calling Anne Fadiman's EX-LIBRIS 'profoundly delightful' or 'delightfully profound,' but what the hell - it's both. Particularly if you are a booklover as I am, and, of course, so is the author. The daughter of writers and intellectuals - Clifton and Annalee Jacoby Fadiman - Anne Fadiman grew up surrounded by books and stimulated by intellectual pursuits of all kinds. How could she not become a confirmed bibliophile?

EX-LIBRIS belongs to that special category: a book about books. But it is so much more. It is also about love of family, and gives us intimate views of two loving and erudite families. The first is the one in which the author grew up, where every week she watched The GE College Bowl on TV with her parents and brother and, invariably, "Fadiman U" was almost always victorious. It also gives us small but delicious snapshots of her own courtship and marriage to writer, George Howe Colt, (THE BIG HOUSE) and how their own love of books drew them together and has influenced their children.

She tells us that her first Christmas present from George was (a book, of course) Ernest Thompson Seton's BIOGRAPHY OF A GRIZZLY. This is a book I read as a child, so I felt an immediate rush of memories and a kinship with Fadiman and Colt.

When Clifton Fadiman lost his sight in his early nineties, Anne began to read to him, remembering how he had often read to her when she was a child, "specializing in Dr. Seuss."

"Now I read to him. The generational table-turning was disorienting at first. I seemed the parent and he the child, but the child frequently corrected my pronunciation."

Again, a flash of recognition and memory, this time a sad one, for I read to my mother in the last several months of her life, after a small stroke at 95 impaired her vision. The first time was indeed disorienting and caused me to cry. The book was Sarah Plain and Tall, a book (and film) my mother had loved. But I adapted. The last book I was reading my mother, the week before she died, was another of her favorites, TISHA.

Fadiman's love of books - and family - permeates this absolutely lovely little tome. She tells of how her husband took her to a newly-discovered out-of-the-way used bookstore for her 42nd birthday. "Seven hours later we emerged from the Riverrun Bookstore carrying nineteen pounds of books ... Now you know why I married my husband."

I certainly do, Anne. Thank you for sharing your love of books and for these intimate glimpses into the lives of your two families. It has been a 'profoundly delightful' journey. I loved this little book and will cherish it. VERY highly recommended. ( )
  TimBazzett | Apr 9, 2014 |
Yet another case of had I read this book a mere few years ago, four stars would have been a guarantee, five if I was feeling especially forlorn due to few real life acquaintances even liking the concept of a book, let alone sharing my fervent devotion for the written word in bound and paged form. Alas, while I added this book more than two years ago, I didn't get around to a finally acquired copy till now, and the three stars would need a great deal of this way or that motion to raise or lower it to any noticeable extent.

It's not as if any of the contained essays diverge from the wide range of topics allotted by literary pursuits intertwining with a single life. Long words, odd choices in reading, writing utensils, secondhand books, and so much more; all familiar, especially the feminist section regarding the rampant word usage devoted to the 'everyman' and all the thought patterns spawned from it. Recognizable, yes, but as a reference, a greeting card, a moment of equal experience in terms of the letter but as the spirit, well. Every essay reached the pinnacle of polite 'Ah yes, I know what you mean' and ultimately shied away from the ecstatic 'Oh my god you understand me.' As the latter is what I set out in search for with every piece of writing, my flattered sensibilities did not prevent me from being disappointed.

The worst part of the disappointment is the faceted aspect of it, as with every essay it was always something different that niggled and nagged and refused to let me enjoy this book about books, a genre that seems perfectly tailored for me but has proved itself as hit and miss as the rest. For summary purposes, I will put it in terms of disliking something based on not being able to empathize with the characters, a judgment that I usually don't hold by but am apparently substantially affected by when it comes to more autobiographical works. As said before, I'm easily distracted from such things by beautiful prose/powerful themes/etc etc, but here, the word of the day is 'cute', riddled to often with worms of 'trite'.

Of course, I'm well aware that I take books far too seriously, viewing them as more as life-changing receptacles of glorious potential than anything else, and am easily tired by nitpicking such as anal proofreading, worries over grammatical feminism interfering with the 'heedless grace' of language (methinks this one needs more critical theory regarding ideologies and the rest), and woebegone nostalgia for the paper and pen and/or typewriter, to name but a few. If my usage of a laptop for all my compositions makes all of said works 'prolix' (aka self-indulgent and a whole host of popularly imposed no-no's, unwritten but heavily implied), so be it. It's a silly thing to be bothered about, I know, but warm familiarity is chilled ever so quickly by gate-keeping, no matter how subtle or unintentional.

Besides, with my reading habits I rarely get the chance to be easily annoyed to a superficial extent in my reviews, so I will gladly sacrifice this flitting tome for the sake of the classics and all the rest. For all those admirers of my 'prolix' prose, that one's for you. ( )
  Korrick | Feb 26, 2014 |
I really liked a lot about this book, but there was something about Fadiman's voice or attitude that kept rubbing me the wrong way, just a little bit. All the talk about just how very bookish her family always was seemed a little self-aggrandizing to me...though even as I write that, it seems unfair, as she's just telling it like it was. Still, lots of families are bookish and hate typos and revel in used bookstores and so forth (the first thing two members of my own family said about the book I'm Not Her, which my daughter is currently reading, is "the title is ungrammatical"!). So I liked best the essays that were least about her and most about others--the one about Gladstone, for instance, was a treat.
1 vote rmaitzen | Feb 7, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 139 (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
First words
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.
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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