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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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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
Tags:non-fiction, essays, literature

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

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English (173)  Spanish (2)  Norwegian (1)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  All (180)
Showing 1-5 of 173 (next | show all)
This is a gratifying book for people who love books. It's very affirming to have someone care as much about reading books as you yourself might. Fadiman covers a broad array of the ways we interact with books and, potentially, how many of us define our identities by them. This book revels in the loaded history we might have with our books, the intensity of our feelings about marginal commentary, the taken-for-granite minutiae that seem to codify what it means to be a capital-R Reader.

There were definitely times that Fadiman came off as competitive and times she seemed to cast herself as the precocious ingénue, but I say that knowing I do that day to day in my life so I mean, sinners casting stones here. All the essays in the book are short, so even when you get into ones where you might disagree with the way she treats reading (I know some people would get up-in-arms about writing in a book, or others who won't ever buy second-hand, or what have you), it's never going to be that long a section, and she's usually pretty good at relaying stories from friends or colleagues with the opposing view.

Having just started library school, there were a lot of things I made mental note of and that I will plunder and recite back in classes, from questions of copyright and theft to the Virginia Woolf book that she quotes in the beginning. Woolf's [b:The Common Reader|18840|The Common Reader|Virginia Woolf|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1423877141s/18840.jpg|2684550] is really the chief book added to my to-read list, which surprised me because I expected to approach Ex Libris as I did Alan Bennett's [b:The Uncommon Reader|1096390|The Uncommon Reader|Alan Bennett|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1317064291s/1096390.jpg|1792422], as a resource for further titles to acquire. I knew most of the works she cited, had read a lot of them, and those I hadn't read I've got no great interest to read. Trollope can wait, as far as I'm concerned.

This book also scored points because not only do I now attempt to read 50/50 women/men authored books, but I'm trying to add more non-fiction to my repertoire. This is still so literary, but it can be my gateway. ( )
  likecymbeline | Apr 1, 2017 |
A book lover, Fadiman shares her insights into the reading experience with humor and beguiling prose. ( )
  bkinetic | Mar 17, 2017 |
I absolutely devoured this delightful little ode to bibliophiles. Modern Mrs. Darcy featured this on her podcast and, from the first page, I was hooked. Fadiman's prose is easy on the mind and had me giggling and nodding along. I felt like I was sitting on her couch across from her, listening with rapt attention as she basically spoke my mind back to me concerning books, love affairs with books, and navigating life. ( )
  knivae | Mar 9, 2017 |
Usually, books about books, they often feel too defensive or too elitist and haughty, but here Fadiman balances it all just right and has proved to be the exception. Her essays range from the typical books-about-books topics of book-buying, book-defacing (dog-ears and writings etc) to essays about the sexism of language, one of my everyday pet topics, and involuntary proofreading reflexes. Even if you do not share the same opinions and book-reading niches as Fadiman - I value practicality over romanticism so her Antarctic explorer defenses did not work on me but I could appreciate her appreciation of her own niche -, her honesty and overwhelming love of books are heartwarmingly resonant with this common reader. ( )
1 vote kitzyl | Feb 28, 2017 |
January for me is reading books about books and literature so that I can pick up ideas on even more books to add to my ever expanding TBR pile. It's also the perfect post- Christmas hunker down and indulge in a bibliomaniacal reading fest time. Ex Libris is a compendium of tales about Anne Fadiman and her family and their relationship with reading and I do hope the grammar is correct here as there is a whole chapter devoted to wince worthy grammatical errors and very funny it is too. I have to say her opinion on how to treat books left me with a nervous tick. It's not that I don't see her point of view - I do really and I can understand they joy to be found in finding an old volume which holds the evidence of former readers ( not sure about squashed insects but if I was an entomologist I am sure they would be a thrilling discovery ) but personally when a book is a common enough edition then I prefer my spines unbroken and without the previous occupants notations, which I find distracting. My hubby got a bookmark this Christmas for the very reason Anne's brother got a scolding from the hotel chambermaid - I am firmly on the side of respecting the body of books and caring for them as best I can. I read the whole book in one evening and loved it and a much better experience of gluttony than scoffing a whole box of chocolates in one sitting and I had the bonus of aching arms from my extreme reading session so I feel it was a good workout too - who needs a gym!. ( )
  MarianneHusbands | Feb 3, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 173 (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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:27 -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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