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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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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 (147)  Spanish (2)  Norwegian (1)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (153)
Showing 1-5 of 147 (next | show all)
This review and others posted over at my blog.

Ex Libris is a collection of essays by Anne Fadiman about her reading life – it details how she and her husband organize their books, how she handles her books, her literary family, her editing compulsions, the joys of reading aloud, and more.

I’m glad I picked up this little volume – I don’t read many books about books or reading (surprisingly) so this was something different for me. Fadiman has a great sense of humor and an expansive vocabulary! It’s clear that books have saturated her life, starting with an early influence from her parents and continuing when she married another avid reader. I loved reading about the proof-reading habits of the Fadiman clan, as I can’t help but mentally correct little errors I find throughout my daily life (like in menus), though I imagine I’m not as astute as Anne. It was also interesting to read about her bookkeeping habits. Anne is a very different reader than I am – she is prone to making notes in her books, dog earing pages, leaving them around in piles. I don’t need my books to be pristine, but when they’re not being read, I prefer they sit on the shelves. I don’t ever write in my books or fold the pages. To me, that seems like ruining a book – to Anne (and even her husband), writing in a book is a sign of adoration and adds a personal touch.

I recommend this for any bookworm – or anyone who is a fan of essays with a literary focus. It’s quick enough that you can read in a day, and if you’re like Anne, be sure to mark up the pages with your thoughts, highlight your favorite quotes, and underline any new vocabulary words ( )
  MillieHennessy | Mar 23, 2015 |
Very nice little book with great essays and anecdotes about reading, writing and book collecting. I'm sad I didn't buy a hard copy of this when it was $4 on Amazon the other day. Ah well. Definitely worth a read. ( )
  luminescent_bookworm | Jan 27, 2015 |

First essay is fabulous but the rest was blah. ( )
  lincolnpan | Dec 31, 2014 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 147 (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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