Monday 16 November 2009

Ex Libris (Anne Fadiman)

It was a busy weekend reading-wise - I think I read a total of 10 books. So it seems to appropriate that I write about the book which I read which was about books and reading.

I came across Ex Libris on Stuck-in-a-book 6 months ago, when I first found Simon's blog, and added it to my wishlist. It was also recommended to me by a colleague when he discovered my blog. After the disappointment of Howards End is on the landing, I was keen to read a bookish book to comfort me in my addiction to books and to make me feel that I could justify my reading. So it was time to reserve it at the library and indulge in the thoughts of another book-lover.

It is a little book of essays (I won't pretend that the 10 books I read this weekend were all chunksters!), subtitled "The confessions of a common reader". And I identified with so many of the confessions!

In the essay, My ancestral castles, Fadiman describes how "other people's walls looked naked to me". She grew up with parents who owned over 7000 books and required 1/4 mile of shelving to be put into every house they moved to. As a child I often wondered why the houses I visited didn't have many books and was always glad to return home to my bungalow where there was not space to fit in another bookshelf.

I particularly loved Fadiman's discussions of childhood reading and reading with her children. Reading was incredibly important to me as a child and I think it is crucial that parents spend time reading with their children. In the essay, Sharing the mayhem, she describes coming down for breakfast to find her daughter eating rice crispies while her father reads to her from Dahl's Boy:
"Had I been a better mother I would have said "After breakfast". Instead I joined the audience."

Full of little gems, I really would recommend this book to all book-lovers - another wonderful Christmas present I think.


  1. This sounds wonderful, Verity. I've seen this book in the shops many a time but somehow haven't quite got round to picking it up. Next time I catch sight of it I might have to change that! I am another who was always bemused by houses without books ... horrid sight.

  2. Isn't it lovely? I grew up in a house with no books - my mum and dad aren't really readers and my mum detests clutter. The majority of books I read as a child were from the library - I used to go every few days to return them and take out more. My mum very actively encouraged reading and always read with us even though she's not a massive fan herself - a sign of a selfless mother! When I finally get my own house in some fantasy distant future I will be covering every available surface in more boxes full of books under beds and in cupboards..bliss!

  3. I'm glad to read your review of Ex Libris. I came across it a while ago but put it back for reasons that escape me know. It's always good to know that there are others that love books and are willing to share the stories. My house too was filled with books and magazines, my mom read to me often and I read to her too.

  4. I haven't even read ten books this month yet! I've been wanting to read this for some time as I've heard such good things.
    The essay on reading as a child reminds me of Roald Dahl's Matilda once she has gone to live with Miss Honey :).

  5. I simply must get a copy of this! Now that you have confirmed the wonderful Simon's thoughts on this how can I not? One for the Christmas list then.

  6. Ex Libris is one of my favorite books of all time. And it does make a great gift for the readers on your list.

  7. You read 10 books over the weekend?? Reading 10 books in a month would be huge for me!

    I love Ex Libris, too, and your review has me thinking about pulling it down from the shelf for a quick reread.

  8. I thought you might like to know that Anne Fadiman is the daughter of Clifton Fadiman who was an editor for a major New York publishing house, a noted wit and intellectual, a radio and TV personality, an editor of the New York Times Book Review and a judge for the Book of the Month Club. The Club had a huge infuence on the reading choices of Americans from the 1930's through the 60's and is still in business. Anne's othr major book, Yhe Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is an astonishing work of non-fiction and I highly recommend it.

  9. I had Ex Libris in my hands last Wednesday and in an attempt at restraint, I put it back on the shelf. Now I just feel full of regret *sniff*. It's a lovely size, just right for my stocking so I'll leave hints for my husband.

  10. I love books about books, and this is one of the best I've read to date. Her second book of essays At large and small is a bit more wide ranging in topic but just as engaging and entertaining.

  11. Wow - what a response to this post! Not a surprise from a bunch of booklovers though.

    Sophie - do pick this up if you see it again.

    Rachel - that's impressive - I thought that houses full of books were a necessary precondition for creating a book lover, but obviously not! My Mum took me to the library regularly too, but she was also changing her books at the same time.

    Claire - yes, I'd forgotten about that scene in Matilda. I have read a ridiculous number of books this month, not quite sure how/why.

    Simon - I hope Father Christmas brings it to you - endorsed by me and Stuck in a book how could he resist?!

    Thomas - yes, definitely a bibliophilic present :)

    JoAnn - I think it is one of those books that can be dipped into and should be reread, but my copy was a library copy :(

    Ellen - thanks for the extra info about Fadiman - I hadn't picked htat up.

    Darlene - Oh no! But yes, it is stocking shaped :)

    A devoted reader - I must look out for the other book of essays. Any other books about books that you can recommend?

  12. I've heard so much about this book. I think I'm going to love it!

  13. Ex Libris is one of my very favorite books! It was given to me by my best friend, who is also a book-lover, and ever since we tend to classify people as 'carnal' or 'courtly' book lovers!

  14. I really have wanted to read this book ever since I found out who her father was-I read Clifton Fadiman's A Life Time Reading Plan in High School-maybe earlier it is so long ago and I am still working on it!-thanks for your very good post

  15. Thanks for popping in Mel - I didn't realise that her father did that too!


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