Ex Libris Essay - Critical Essays

Anne Fadiman

Ex Libris

Anne Fadiman is a journalist, sprung from a family where books are a cottage industry. This, exuberant collection of eighteen essays, first written for CIVILIZATION magazine, explores her “word worm” life style. Fadiman considers books as friends and numbers the great authors of history among her intimates. The reader is invited to join her confederacy of recreational proofreaders and word addicts in EX LIBRIS: CONFESSIONS OF A COMMON READER.

Arranged roughly in the order of publication, the essays reflect the passage of Fadiman’s family from early marriage through “middle age with two children.” Only many years of marriage brought Fadiman and her husband Colt to the point where their personal libraries could share shelves, a process outlined in “Marrying Libraries.” “Scorn not the Sonnet” reflects humorously on Fadiman’s youthful verse. It also chronicles the comfort found in John Milton’s “On His Blindness” when her aging father loses his eyesight. In “Sharing the Mayhem” the author muses over reading aloud as performance in public and private arenas.

Ranging from plagiarism to authorial dedications, books in bed and sex in books, the essays touch lightly on many subjects, and they do it with quirky bits of information, zestful style, and a well-honed vocabulary. After all, Fadiman’s family collects sesquipedalians (extra long words). In a restaurant they first search the menu for errata, not appetizers. As a child, Fadiman built houses with a set of books as blocks. As an adult, she continues to be fascinated with the heft, smell, and taste of the written word, a fascination joyously embodied in EX LIBRIS.

Sources for Further Study

Biblio. December, 1998, p. 10.

Booklist. XCV, October 1, 1998, p. 303.

Chicago Tribune. October 25, 1998, XIV, p. 4.

The Christian Science Monitor. November 12, 1998, p. B5.

Library Journal. CXXIII, September 15, 1998, p. 78.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, November 8, 1998, p. 23.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, August 24, 1998, p. 34.

The Wall Street Journal. November 27, 1998, p. W5.