Book Reviews
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Weekend Book Review – Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader is a collection of essays that provides bookish conversations to bibliophiles. It’s also a literary memoir because Fadiman injects bookish anecdotes about her reading life, which includes her family. Some favorite topics include arranging books in one’s own library, classifying the kinds of readers, buying second-hand books, and growing up and still living in a world of books.

In Marrying Libraries, Fadiman discusses the various ways readers may arrange their books on their shelves. Shelf description is expanded in My Odd Shelf, My Ancestral Castles, and The P.M.’s Empire of Books, which is about the strict shelving habits of four times British Prime Minister Gladstone. Although such a political figure is mentioned in this book, it remains true to its subtitle: it’s still wholly confessions of a common reader.

What are the merits of writing and critiquing books right on their pages? What books have surprisingly made an impact on you? On what page should you write an inscription when you’re giving a book to a friend? How can your perception and experience change when you read a description of a setting while being right at that place? Why are some people obsessed with long words, pens, catalogues, and proofreading? Is there any benefit to reading aloud?

There are also topics on poetic attempts (Scorn Not the Sonnet), gender equality on print (The His’er Problem), originality and plagiarism (Nothing New Under the Sun), and cooking (The Literary Glutton). There’s nothing about ebooks and how the Internet revolutionized reading because this was published in the late 90s. The general tone of the essays is candid, which is just right for a fun book. Other sources are not abundant, but when there are any, references are drawn from her editor and writer friends, who also are big readers. In Fadiman’s tight literary circle, one can’t not notice erudite background, and this may lead one to suspect that she’s a snob and not a common reader after all.

But the common love that we all have for books makes her as common as any book lover, and this love can be felt right from the first page. It is hard not to at least like a book that is about books, the reading life, and bookish conversations, such as the one below:

“When I was leaving work that day, I noticed that the proprietor had put one of Clive’s books in the fifty-cent cart we kept on the sidewalk. It was an Edwardian compact Shakespeare with an ugly typeface and garishly colored plates. Inside, in a round adolescent hand that must have been dated from his teens or early twenties, Clive had written his name and the lines from The Tempest ‘We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep.'”

I asked Adam what he had done with the book.

“I bought it,” he said, “and took it home.”

[Read in January 2014.]
[4 out of 5 stars.]
[162 pages. Trade paperback. A book club traveling book.]

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7 Comments

  1. Monique says

    I missed these reviews! :D (Also, yay, now I remember the stories in the book. I haven’t written about this one yet, hehe.)

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  2. What an intriguing book!

    Did it feel like a literary inception of sorts when you were reading this? Reader reading about another reader’s reading habits? Lol. Which part, in your opinion, was the most relatable?

    And yeah, I think the argument about ebooks and the digital format would’ve made an excellent (and extensive, I bet) topic too.

    Your review makes me want to read this book so bad! Thank you for contributing to my already-monstrous wishlist, hahaha.

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    • I really like the part about the different types of book lovers: the courtly lover and the carnal lover. I put a lot of notes in that chapter. And you’re welcome!

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  3. Stumbled upon this book as well at Booksale. The Fadiman last name is a click-bait for me, as it reminded me of her father, Clifton Fadiman, who has an anthology (“The World of the Short Story”) that’s surprisingly un-snob with his choices: to put stories Dagoberto Gilb, Yukio Mishima, Milan Kundera and Donald Barthelme (!!!) in one book is a staggering achievement.

    Anyway, Marrying Libraries is a personal favorite. Wasn’t able to finish the book since it feels like gloating about their WASP background, WASP problems, etc. Come to think of it: the cover says it all. This is a WASP who has all the time in the world to read, read, and read. As you’ve said, “…one can’t not notice erudite background, and this may lead one to suspect that she’s a snob and not a common reader after all.” It reads more like a blog from a fashion blogger w/ a celeb family background.

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    • I think these pieces were lifted from her columns. Perhaps that’s why it feels like a blog. Aaand, I had to Google what WASP means! :D

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