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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

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3,4631681,544 (4.21)657
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: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 (162)  Spanish (2)  Norwegian (1)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (168)
Showing 1-5 of 162 (next | show all)
Oh shoot, I've read others in the genre since and have forgotten most of what I thought of this. (I read it before I was on GR.) One thing I do remember is being unable to empathize with how the author hoards. Nor am I as impressed by having the same edition one had marked up in high school or whatever, though that bit makes a little sense for a few very personally influential books. Speaking for myself, I want to read a book, say a few words about it on a GR review, and either return it to the library or Release it to another reader.

ETA - took another star off. I still prickle a bit when reminded of her assumptions that her relationship to books is the right one. I just can't go with the idea of defacing them. And popular fiction is a worthwhile use of one's time. Ah, I'm gonna start sounding defensive if I go on. Suffice to say, you'll read this yourself and form your own opinion, I know you will. If you haven't already. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
I love books about books.

I just can’t get enough. I love reading books about what other people love about books. I love knowing that there are other readers out there who love books as much as I do, who collect books as obsessively as I do, and whose houses are as packed with books as mine is. I love all of that.

(I also couldn’t help loving the title, as I have an “ex libris” tattoo.)

If you love that, too, then you will definitely enjoy Anne Fadiman’s collection of essays about her reading life.

Anne’s essays are funny, insightful looks into various aspects of book-loving. She discusses the difficulty she had in finally “marrying” her library with her husband’s. She writes about growing up in a book-loving, vocabulary-expanding family; about the woes of being a compulsive proofreader; about the pleasures of long and sometimes archaic words; about the agony of penning the perfect inscription inside a book cover. Her essays are funny, clever, and peppered with interesting words. (I definitely expanded my vocabulary while reading.)


I feel a sort of kindred spirit in Anne. I kept seeing bits of myself in her—especially in the way she physically treats her books. To her, books are meant to be loved, and loved hard. They’re meant to be handled, cried over, eaten over, and written in.

The Fadiman family believed in carnal love. To us, a book’s words were holy, but the paper, cloth cardboard, glue, thread, and ink that contained them were a mere vessel, and it was no sacrilege to treat them as wantonly as desire and pragmatism dictated. Hard use was a sign not of disrespect but of intimacy.
To me, a sign of a good book is how close the cover is to falling off. I’ve never understood people who want to keep their books looking pristine, and I’ve always felt a little bit guilty about not being afraid to really manhandle my books. After reading Ex Libris, though, I feel affirmed.

This is a quick and very entertaining read for book lovers everywhere. ( )
  blackrabbit89 | May 6, 2016 |
This is a delightful slim book, a collection of personal essays about her love of reading.
In "Marrying Libraries", she and her husband embark on merging their libraries. "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." They had to agree on which order to shelve their books, how to deal with the duplicates, whether to be a lumper or a splitter. "His books commingled democratically....mine were balkanized by nationality and subject matter. Like most people with a high tolerance for clutter, George maintains a basic trust in three-dimensional objects. If he wants something, he believes it will present itself, and therefore it usually does. 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 was only once they accomplished this mammoth task that they really felt married.
I always love reading about the passionately held attitudes of bibliophiles towards their books. One of my favourite essay was "Never Do That to a Book". When her brother left a book open and facedown on a hotel night table, he was chastised with a note from the chambermaid: "SIR, YOU MUST NEVER DO THAT TO A BOOK". This categorises the chambermaid as a "courtly" lover of books. The Fadiman family on the other hand, are "carnal" lovers of books. It is all about the words, not the physical structure that holds them, so it is "...no sacrilege to treat them as wantonly as desire and pragmatism dictated."
Dog-earing, bookmarking, spine-breaking are all just variations of useful ways to mark your progression through a book. "...closing a book on a bookmark is like pressing the Stop button, whereas when you leave the book facedown, you've only pressed Pause."
Fadiman treasures the books for the words they contain, and so values the worn and marked up book. It reflects its life, its caresses, its communion with the reader. In "Secondhand Prose", when receiving a very old 2-volume book set with uncut pages, she realises the books have never been read and "...was overcome with melancholy...I had the urge to lend them to as many friends as possible in order to make up for all of the caresses they had missed during their first century."
These are wonderful reflections on the joy and deep satisfaction of being a Reader. She writes gracefully, with humour, and with passion.

I wish there were more essays - this book finished too soon. ( )
  TheBookJunky | Apr 22, 2016 |
A fun, entertaining, and humorous reflection of the author's love and passion for all things books and language, and a description of a life lived for such pleasures. These essays made me evaluate just what kind of bookworm I am and just what kind of bibliophile I want to become ( )
  ashniclayton | Mar 25, 2016 |
The subtitle of Ex Libris is "Confessions of a Common Reader" but I kept getting the impression that the author of these essays, Anne Fadiman, is far from a common or typical reader. While what she says doesn't go over my head, Fadiman is clearly erudite and from a highly literary family (her father was the late Clifton Fadiman) and I sometimes felt a bit envious that I wasn't as highly-born in a literary way. Neither the family I grew up in or currently am in ever sit around discussing books or quoting from books or read aloud to each other beyond a passage that might catch someone's fancy. So, I couldn't relate to her in that way. But that's okay, really.

But, as a life-long reader (though certainly not at the literary/intellectual level as Fadiman), I could relate to some of what she said. For example -- her discussion on what she terms "The Odd Shelf" -- a section of one's library that doesn't really relate to the rest -- hers is on polar exploration. Mine would be on architectural styles. I liked how she pointed out that used bookstores (which, as she loves because she knows, as I do also, that if something in one catches your interest, you better take it home that day. Barnes and Noble, say, have the same books over and over again) often have a section titled "Books on Books" while Barnes and Nobles probably would not, because it is a genre that is on the decline.

One final thought-provoking thing that Fadiman brings up -- she is relating what a friend who formerly worked in a used bookstore tells her -- when dispersing of someone's library (as in all the books from someone's estate), there's that realization that "books get their value from the way they coexist with the other books a person owns, and that when they lose their context, they lose their meaning (p. 153)". I really don't expect my kids to keep my books after I die (a very long time in the future, hopefully!), but this was somewhat of a sobering thought. Realizing that the books I own are part of my identity.

And, now that I've finished reading Ex Libris, it will join the "books on books" section of my library! ( )
  ValerieAndBooks | Nov 12, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 162 (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)

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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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