Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman is a book that I have been looking out for, as well as many others, for absolutely ages. If you are a fan of ‘books about books’ then many say that this is the holy grail of books about books. After having read a few this year like The Paper House (though that was fiction) and of course one of the most blogged about books of the year Howard’s End is on the Landing it’s a genre of books I like. So imagine my utter joy when last weekend one of my closest friends, the lovely Michelle, bought me a copy of this very book.
Anne Fadiman is a journalist and writer who comes from strong literary genes. Her father Clifton Fadiman is a literary critic and personality, her mother Annalee Jacoby Fadiman is an author. She is even married to an author (the first essay in this collection is a funny piece about the merging or marrying of two peoples book collections as it appears they are both book hoarders – I liked them instantly) the author George Howe Colt, so she is definitely about the books and about words. Ex Libris is a collection of essays which mingle memories and book thoughts from her life in the past and current perspective.
When I know a book is meant to be a book about books, I want it to be just that. Plain and simply I want book thoughts, book thoughts and more book thoughts. This doesn’t quite happen as much as you would think with this novel. In fact I would say the book is more a celebration of words both written and writing. There’s an essay on sonnets, some feminist essays and a few on writing, grammar and words. The thing is though I didn’t mind these slightly of the book subject essays because through her words I liked Anne Fadiman so much and wanted to read more about her. There are some great essays on books inside such as the marrying of books I mentioned before. She looks at reading in the places books are set, second-hand book buying joy (I am all for that) and you do leave with a list of books you want to read so all in all job accomplished.
It is her likeability that definitely sells this book and the bookish essays that are thrown in and make it such a little gem and if you are a fan of books then you really should have this on your shelves. You also need to read it to find out just what a ‘sesquipedalian’ is… its one of my new favourite words, I will see how many conversations I can throw that into today.
It has made me wonder, apart from the aforementioned Susan Hill book, just what books there are actually out there that are solidly about just books and reading and books. I don’t mind the And I don’t mean highbrow books where you sit and feel alienated because you haven’t read the entire works of Chekhov, Tolstoy or Dumas. I mean books where people read a gambit of material. I know there must be some out there I just seem to be missing them somehow. Any clues?