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Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by…

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (1998)

by Anne Fadiman

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Showing 1-5 of 177 (next | show all)
This wonderful slim volume collects Anne Fadiman's essays on aspects of being a bibliophile, indeed a bibliomaniac. I am sure that anyone who loves books will, like me, be constantly smiling or chuckling in recognition at the odd, obsessive relationship we have with the printed word. The theme that connects all the essays is how books connect people - the writers with the readers, but also how we relate to friends, family and lovers through our books, and how the smears, inscriptions and marginalia of second-hand books joins us to a chain of past readers.

I'm not always a fan of the New Yorker style of writer - I often find them to be pretentious ivory-towered aesthetes and snobs, such as in Nora Ephrons recent satire of the the Stieg Larsson books - but this was witty, funny, charming and urbane. Fadiman decries, in the Recommended Reading chapter that "Book About Books" sections are to be found only in secondhand bookstores rather than new bookshops, but this little collection is a lovely addition to that small, select enclave. ( )
  Pezski | Jun 8, 2017 |
In this collection of personal essays, Fadiman carefully selects every word to evoke the love of a written page. It reminds me why I read and why I love to share what I read with others. Perhaps the sentiment is best encapsulated by her following insight: "All readings are performances...When you read silently, only the writer performs. When you read aloud, the performance is collaborative." Yes, yes, yes. ( )
  e2d2 | Jun 2, 2017 |
My friend subconsciously suggested this book to me after a conversation we had about finding treasures hidden in books. She had just purchased a book for her husband, used book (the best kind), and within its pages she found a treasure trove of items left by the former owner(s). It sparked me to tell her how wonderful I thought that was, and how I loved finding notes scribbled in the margins of books. That's when she told me about Ex Libris.

This book may be sub-titled Confessions of A Common Reader, but it's really a love story to the author's love of reading and books passed down to her, almost genetically, from her parents.

The book is a quick read, although it took me several weeks to finish it. I loved savoring her words, although, I must confess, I needed a dictionary for most of them. Maybe it was the sentiment. The idea that books are precious.

The book is a collection of Anne Fadiman's essays about words, writing, reading (books and mail order catalogs). So you can read an essay a day or a couple of essays a night like I did. My favorite essays were "Never Do That to a Book," "The Catalogical Imperative" because I love mail-order catalogs too, and "Secondhand Prose".

In "Secondhand Prose" she talks about her 42nd Birthday gift from her husband: a trip to a specific used book store where she and her husband came home with 19 pounds of books. This is me at the Friends of the Library Book Sale. I'll push and prod, earn blisters from carrying bags and sacks into which I can drop my finds, and they are finds. Fadiman writes: You may prefer Veuve Clicquot for your birthday, but give me (actually, you can't, because George {her husband} beat you to it) a nine-dollar 1929 edition of Vincent Starrett's Penny Wise and Book Foolish, a tender paean to book collecting that contains the following sentence: "Every new search is a voyage to the Indies, a quests for buried treasure, a journey to the end of the rainbow; and whether or not at the end there shall be turned up a pot of gold or merely a delightful volume, there are always wonders along the way."

I love used book stores because not only will you never know what book you might find that you can't live without, but you never know who else found that book and left a little piece of themselves behind. It's a romantic notion that not everyone prescribes to. Over the weekend I talked with a friend who absolutely hates bent spines, dog eared pages, and margin notes. We're actually trading a book - Jane Austen's Persuasion - because she can't stand the writing the previous owner left in the margins and I can't bear not to have it. So I will buy her a new book to trade for the old just to catch a glimpse of what the other woman wrote (and I don't mean Austen).

This is a book for people who absolutely love to read. Not only that, it's about books, food, other people who love books, children who love books, how to get your kids to love books without being a self-help guide. It's a journey of Anne Fadiman's life long voyage with books. It's beautifully written and a treasure. Maybe someday I'll find it in a used book store with all the things I wanted to write in the margins.

For now I must return this prize to the library where they don't appreciate good, personalize margin notes. Maybe I'll slip in a scrap of paper declaring my love for this book...who knows. ( )
  wendithegray | May 1, 2017 |
How can an avid reader like me not like this little book? Although I'm usually not fond of short stories, the ones collected in this book were not really stories. They were short, yes, but as the preface states, they're more like essays, little booky fragments out of the author's life that she shares.
I liked the book. My favourite essays are (in order of appearance in the book):
- Marrying libraries
- True Womanhood
- The his'er problem
- r/ Inse^t a Car-ro-t /e
- Eternal Ink
- Sharing the Mayhem
- Secondhand Prose ( )
  BoekenTrol71 | Apr 25, 2017 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 177 (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)

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