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Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader Paperback – Nov 25 2000

4.7 out of 5 stars 71 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (Nov. 25 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374527229
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374527228
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 1.2 x 18.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 136 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars 71 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #153,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Amazon

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The author of last year's NBCC-winning The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, has collected 18 essays about her relationships with books, reading, writing and words. Gathered from the "Common Reader" column Fadiman wrote for Civilization magazine, these essays are all inspired by interesting ideas?how spouses merge their large libraries, the peculiar pleasures of reading mail-order catalogues, the joys of reading aloud, how people inscribe their books and why. Unfortunately, some of these fascinating ideas grow fussy. The minutiae of the shelving arrangements at the Fadiman household brings the reader to agree with the author's husband, who "seriously contemplated divorce" when she begged him to keep Shakespeare's plays in chronological order. The aggressive verbal games waged in Fadiman's (as in Clifton) family are similarly trying: They watched G.E. College Bowl, almost always beating the TV contestants; they compete to see who can find the most typos on restaurant menus; and adore obscure words such as "goetic" (pertaining to witchcraft). At least the author is self-aware: "I know what you may be thinking. What an obnoxious family! What a bunch of captious, carping, pettifogging little busybodies!" Well, yes, but Fadiman's writing, particularly in her briefer essays, is lively and sparkling with earthy little surprises: William Kunstler enjoyed writing (bad) sonnets, John Hersey plagiarized from Fadiman's mother. Books are madeleines for Fadiman, and like those pastries, these essays are best when just nibbled one or two at a time.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
If you are a bibliophile and would like to bury your nose in a charming collection of essays on reading and collecting books-then this is a book that you will enjoy reading.
I picked up the book on a whim and put it away to read at some future date. Then, late one evening I picked up the book, and casually started reading it. I was hooked! I continued reading till the wee hours of the morning, and only put it away when I had finished reading the book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.
This slim volume with about 160 pages has about 18 essays. And as Robert McCrum of the "London Observer," put it, "Witty, enchanting, and supremely well-written, one of the most delightful volumes to have come across my desk in a long time..."
This collection of personal essays is a celebration of the written word. After reading this book I have become a carnal lover of books and boldly make notes on the margins of the book. Fadiman says that there are two kinds of book lovers: courtly and carnal. For courtly lovers the "book's physical self was sacrosanct," but for the carnal lovers "a book's words were holy, but the paper, cloth, cardboard, glue, thread, and link that contained them were a mere vessel, and it was no sacrilege to treat them as wantonly as desire and pragmatism dictated."
Fadiman is the editor of "The American Scholar," and a National Book Critics Circle Award winner and shares her love affair with books in this collection of essays Fadiman grew up in a house filled with books. Both her parents were well known writers. Her father, Clifton Fadiman, was a critic, anthologist and a judge of the Book of the Month Club and her mother; Annalee Jacoby Fadiman was a Time correspondent.
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Format: Paperback
What a captivating and fun little book! I don't attach to it the same deep meanings that some of my fellow reviewers did, but there is plenty here that any true book lover will identify with and enjoy.
I found the book a bit uneven -- we've all read enough bad poetry to want to avoid reading about flawed verse in the chapter called Scorn Not the Sonnet, and while the point is well made in Nothing New Under the Sun, I felt I was going to suffocate under the weight of all those footnotes. But where Ex Libris is good it is very good.
On this book's pages, you'll find charming anecdotes about messages written inside book covers, funny stories about people compelled to proofread at all time, an essay on the joy of reading a book in the place it is about, and a little stab at the annoying practice of removing the gender from popular sayings. Every one a gem.
This is also a handsome edition of the book, making it a great gift for any book lovers you know. It's an even better gift to yourself.
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Format: Paperback
Why do we keep books on a shelf? According to one of the essays in Anne Fadiman's gem of a book, Ex Libris, it's because they provide a concrete picture of who we are and how we developed. This message really hits home for those of us who have tried to find an out-of-print book that captures a particular time in our past. Fadiman understands this obsession. I originally borrowed Ex Libris from the library, and then found myself climbing up a ladder in a used bookstore to add this must-have volume to my own bookshelves. This is a book whose content I have shared with bibliophiles and nonbibliophiles alike. My husband and I both reacted in horror to Fadiman's story of her distress while combining libraries with her spouse...a merger that we both agree will never occur in our own home. My co-workers laughed and nodded at the description of proofreaders being compared to the person sweeping up elephant dung after a parade. And, another person in my life couldn't understand my excitement of reminiscing about and keeping books read years ago, which she termed "clutter." Fadiman beautifully captures and describes all these and more peculiarities of book lovers.
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Format: Paperback
Anne Fadiman's 'Ex Libris' kept me entertained with these light-hearted, hilarious essays about books. Ok, so she confesses of eing a bit obsessed with her passion. Her life long love affair with books and language has become chapters in her own life story. Fadiman admits she learned about [love] from her father's copy of 'Fanny Hill.' And at one time found herself reading a 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only thing in her apartment she hadn't read.

Fadiman recounts a book lover's odyssey in her well-tuned personal essays. Finding her ("True Womanhood") in favorite anecdotes from Father Bernard O'Reilly. not seeing eye-to-eye, but thankful for him that she got to know her great-grandmother. In ("Marrying Libraries"), she didn't feel completely married without merging her and her husband's collection. Her well-worded apology on plagiarism ("Nothing New Under the Sun") is witty and raw. Her first introduction to books at the age of four, when she liked building castles ("My Ancestral Castles") with her father's pocket-sized twenty-two volume set of midnight blue 'Trollope.' Fadiman's addiction to long words ("The Joy of Sesquipedalians") would beat me in a game of scrabble. Just sitting at the breakfast table of the Fadiman's would bring new intellect to one's vocabulary. Thanks you, Carl Van Vechten! Would you know the meaning of monophysite, ithyphallic, aspergill or opopanax?

Fadiman's happiness is a round-trip ticket to any used bookshop namely New York's finest ("Secondhand Prose") ponders the words of Henry Ward Beecher, "Where human nature so weak as in the bookstore!" The temptations of books kept her in good company with Southey and Macaulay. There are family members and friends who have brought me books on many occasions and I can relate to Anne Fadiman. I enjoyed this very much. It taught me to be wise, be a good speller, tackle big words and love books alot more.
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