Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On Anne Fadiman and Bookishness

This is probably not all that surprising, but I love books about books. And, in my mind, without question, the book-about-books above all others is Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris. If you haven't read this little jewel, you must. It will only take you a few hours, and you'll feel at the end as if you've found a new best friend.

I always enjoy talking with folks who have read Ex Libris and finding out which essay is their favorite. I usually say mine is the first one, "Marrying Libraries," I think because I like to daydream about what kind of joint library will be created when I meet my mate (you can read an excerpt of that essay here). But, well, looking at the table of contents, now I'm finding it hard to say that's true unequivocally.

There's also "Never Do That to a Book," wherein Ms. Fadiman's brother is chastised by a hotel maid for leaving a book lying spreadeagled and face down. I am what the author would call a courtly lover of the book -- I shudder when I see people in the store fold a paperback cover back over the spine. Like her friend Clark, I have bought two copies of a book, one to read and the other to keep pristine. I'm afraid I can appreciate only in theory the passion of the carnal book lover who destroys their books in the name of love.

And I can't forget "Words on a Flyleaf," Ms. Fadiman's examination of the inscriptions we write in the books we give to others. Whenever I ring up a used book, and it has an inscription, I have to read it. I just have to. And then, depending on what it says, I wonder what happened to George, or if Amy and Laura are still good friends, or whether Mark knows that his gift has been sold for 20% of the cover price in store credit. I wonder sometimes what happens to the books I've given as gifts and inscribed. And I think about the books I've kept through various moves and purges not because of the book itself, but because of what a friend had written inside.

[A side note of pure serendipity: Jessica, a bookseller in New York, has a fantastic blog called The Written Nerd. Today she mentions The Book Inscription Project, where you can see (and send in yourself!) the best and/or worst inscriptions found in used books. So cool!]

So all this is to say that I'm really excited for At Large and at Small, Ms. Fadiman's new essay collection which we just got in this week. Though the topics move beyond that of the bookish, I'm so thrilled for more from such a dear-to-me-though-we've-never-met author. NPR did a very nice piece with Ms. Fadiman last week that you can read/listen to here. I love her stumping for the familiar essay, which is such a brilliant genre when it is well done, and hearing her address the very idea with which I started this entry--that to read her is to think you've found a new friend.

1 comment:

Raquelle said...

Ex-Libris sounds like a great book. I can't believe I've never heard of it! Thanks for the recommendation. I'm particularly intrigued by the concept of the "Marrying of Libraries".