Saturday, April 10, 2010

Review of the Day: Ex Libris

Ex Libris is Anne Fadiman’s “Confessions of a Common Reader,” a collection of essays on books, reading, and related foibles. She writes about particular books, but most of the essays are more generally book related, on topics such as marginalia, home libraries, inscriptions, compulsive proofreading, plagiarism, and fountain pens.

Fadiman on books is not laugh out loud funny like Nick Hornby in his book column for the Believer. But she is smart and warm-hearted and many a passage will make bibliophiles smile. For instance, her “Marrying Libraries” essay will touch a cord with anyone who has tried to merge their book collections with a live-in love. And most readers will recognize something in themselves when Fadiman describes her collection of books on Arctic exploration as her “Odd Shelf,” explaining:

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.

These kinds of observations will keep book lovers flipping the pages and wishing Fadiman had included more essays in this short book.

This is one of the books I read for the Bibliophilic Books Challenge.

I was bowled over by Fadiman's first book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, an anthropological classic about the clash between an Hmong family whose little girl has epilepsy and the Western doctors who tried to treat her. I never reviewed it because it was so overwhelming to me, but I recommend it highly.

(If you would like your review listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.)


  1. I read it in the days before I was book blogging. I remember liking but not loving the book.

  2. My copy of this book first belonged to my friend, Josephine, who was exactly twice my age when I first met her. She writes in pen in all of her books. She underlines words she doesn't know, she makes little comments, she traces routes on maps, and on the very last page of every book she reads she signs and dates it and sometimes writes a short comment. It doesn't matter if it's a paperback or a gorgeous leatherbound edition from Eastman Press. When I pointed this out, she shrugged and said simply she was a carnal book lover. When I was confused, she said I had to read this book and gave me her copy. In the middle of Fadiman's essay about courtly vs. carnal book lovers, Josephine wrote in very scratchy script at the bottom of Page 40: "Mom used to use a bill to mark her place in a book. She told me to look through her books when she died. Yes, I found a few bills. I was astounded a couple of months ago to find $60 in a book I had read sometime before. My mother's daughter." The last page is signed: "J.D.P. Jan. 16, 2009 Truly loved this book!" She was 92 years old at the time.

  3. pussreboots -- I really enjoyed it, but I was definitely in the mood for it. Also, my friend Laura (see below) recommended it so highly that I went into it with positive thoughts.

    Laura -- I love the story about your carnal book loving friend! It inspires me to write in my books, although I am definitely in the courtly love camp myself.

  4. Great review. I have this book on my list for this challenge as well, sounds perfect for bookworms :) I´m curious about which type of booklover I´ll be categorized as, I don´t write in my books, but I have no problems with dogears or breaking the spine :D

  5. ifyoucanreadthis -- Yikes! I think I'd be much more likely to write in the books than break the spines. Definitely not a hereditary trait -- I come from a long line of spine breakers. I never loan a book to my family, I give them my copy or buy them their own. I don't like to see the damage they inflict. :)

  6. I checked this one out from the library once, but returned it after only a flip-through. I'm not sure why exactly. Your review makes me want to give it another chance.

    Jessica @ The Bluestocking Society

  7. Jessica -- It sat on my TBR shelf for a long, long time, despite Miss Laura insisting that I would love it. She was right. I wish I had read it years ago.

  8. This is my all-time favourite book about books. I just found a beautiful hardcover edition for a song. I have linked to your review in my post about my find. I keep trying to post comments here, but my spastic computer keeps closing. With any luck this one will stick. Thanks for your offer to link to my review of Nick Hornby. Please do when you get a chance.

  9. Nathalie -- Thanks for the visit and the comment. I am jealous of your hardback edition. How nice that would be! I will post a link to your Hornby review as soon as I get a chance (I'm heading out of town for work tomorrow with spotty internet).


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