Review: Ex Libris

Most of you voted for Ex Libris in my poll, so here’s my review (finally!) 🙂 Great choice really, as it is the perfect book for bibliophiles. I’ve been exasperated with my library for not acquiring it or Fadiman’s other works. Luckily for me, Vishy is super nice and sent me Ex Libris. Thanks so much!

Now, Ex Libris is a collection of essays, in which Fadiman addresses all that is essential (to a book lover). Right from the beginning I was eyeing this slim volume with trepidation, why did it have to be so small!? If I had had an audience, they might have been fascinated by my mix of devouring and savouring this book. I did try to make this one last as long as possible but I’m not at all the savouring kind of reader, no discipline!

I suspect you all have read Fadiman’s works ages ago, I’m always the last to discover anything, but I completely loved this book! Fadiman writes about joining her library with that of her husband, sesquipedalians, odd shelves, dedications and inscriptions and much more. How do you join libraries? I think that really is the ultimate commitment for bibliophiles 😀 And I love that Fadiman loves sesquipedilians and shared some favorites in that essay. Bookworms are probably by default word people, or is that a prejudice? I know one of my most treasured books is one of English synonyms and antonyms and whenever I stumble upon a particularly great word I note it down in a journal (my favorite at the moment is tatterdemalion, that word has so much character!).

One of the most interesting essays was the one about odd shelves, Fadiman is keen on Arctic explorers. I’m not sure what mine is, what would others consider odd, what stands out from my other books? What is your odd shelf? Fadiman’s essay about compulsive editing was also great fun. If I didn’t have a thing about writing in books (see post on “Never do that to a Book?”), I would probably mark typos and mistakes with a red pen as well. Of course they happen, but more than two typos in one book set my teeth on edge and distract me from reading.

Fadiman writes about reading about places while you’re there which sounded great to me at first but now I realize that I don’t ever do that. I like to read about places I’ve been to or places I am going to soon, but never about the place I am at (except for travel guides). That might be because I want to really focus on experiencing the place for myself while I am there. Do you ever read while you’re there?

The essay about how everything has been said before and the resulting problem of plagiarism was especially fun, Fadiman shows that the only thing that makes footnotes even better is sarcasm! And this panic about not being able to say anything new reminded me of writing my first paper at uni 😀 We were lectured so severely about plagiarism that I thought the only way to avoid doing that would be by putting the complete paper into quotation marks.

Apart from these interesting topics Fadiman chose for her essays, what made this book so great was Fadiman herself. I was afraid I would find her condescending and come to resent her but her voice was so warm and likeable and not arrogant at all. I found I could enjoy reading about her bookish upbringing and family without thinking of them as a bunch of intellectual snobs but instead became fond of them and their games of guess this quote’s source. Luckily I have Fadiman’s other book, At Large and At Small on my shelf (thanks to the wonderful Vishy!) and will read it soon.


Other Thoughts:

My Books. My Life

Rose City Reader

Fleur Fisher

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

18 thoughts on “Review: Ex Libris

  1. I read this a couple of years ago and really loved it–so much I could relate to!

    As for reading about a place you’re visiting, that’s something I do all the time. In fact, I make a point of choosing books to take with me that are set in the place I’m visiting. I do most of my traveling alone, so there end up being lots of opportunities to read–like over a meal or while waiting for the bus or train or sometimes just sitting in a park enjoying the weather. I think I read six books while I was in England last year, and almost every single of them was set in Yorkshire, which is where I spent most of my trip. Such fun!

    1. Perhaps I’ll give reading about the place I’m visiting another try. I’m usually reading everything else on holidays though 🙂

  2. I’m very glad to hear she never sounds condescending – that can be a problem with books about books, especially for a genre fan like me. I need to read this one for sure!

  3. I am very glad and happy to know that you liked Anne Fadiman’s ‘Ex Libris’, Bina 🙂 You are most welcome 🙂

    I was also very disappointed that the book was very slim, but what a book! It is sad that Fadiman has written only three books (two collections of essays and one nonfiction book) and has edited another called ‘Re-readings’. The only other writings of hers that I have seen is an introduction to a book on the life of an explorer who went to South America. It is sad because we would love to read more Anne Fadiman essays.

    The essay on odd shelves inspired me to get Robert Scott’s journal. I haven’t read it yet. My odd shelf has a lot of comics – comics that I grew up with. Most of them are out of print and have heroes and heroines which no one has heard of today – like Tex Viller, Modesty Blaise, Louis Grandel, Lucky Luke, XIII and others.

    I do read travel guides too, when I travel, but I mostly buy books at the place where I go to, and read them after I get back home.

    I liked your description of Fadiman’s voice as warm and likeable. Your observation on plagiarism made me smile 🙂

    ‘Sesquipedilians’ is a word I have never heard of, before I read this book. ‘Tatterdemalion’ sounds so interesting! Because you love words so much, I think you will like this book (I am making another unsolicited recommendation – sorry, sorry!). It is called ‘Kick the bucket and swing the cat’ by Alex Games. It is a beautiful book on words and their origins written in an engaging tone.

    Thanks again for this wonderful review, Bina! Hope you enjoy ‘At Large and At Small’ too.

    1. Thanks to you! It’s such a lovely book 🙂 She sounded so enthusiastic about Scott and the explorers, I made a note of it, too 🙂 These comics sound interesting, I only know Lucky Luke though.

      Sounds like have the same habits when it comes to reading about travel destinations!

      Heh, I really do love words and I love recommendations! The Games book sounds great, I’ll have to look out for it (balderdash and piffle, awesome!).

  4. Oh, this book is SUCH a favourite of ours! I read it aloud to my husband after starting it on my own and realising I just HAD to share it with him! I’m wondering if it has now been long enough since I read it to begin all over again… I’m so glad you enjoyed it, too. ALL bibliophiles should read it! 🙂

    We (husband, son, daughter and I) play the ‘Source?’ game all the time! And one of the many joys of marrying my husband after having been married to someone who never, ever read books (I know! How could I?) was merging our libraries when, before, every book in the house had belonged to me!

    1. Glad you love it, too. And it really seems a book that is perfect for many rereads!
      Love that your family plays source, lucky you! 🙂

  5. I ve not read this Bina but want to know ,I love the book about book genre ,they always seem to inspire you to want to read more lol ,all the best stu

  6. Now wait… voila I have become the last person instead to read this. Going to search my library or bookstore for this one. Loved the review and it makes me crave the shorts stories more.

  7. I just finished this and it’s such a delightful read. So many little points that only bibliophiles like us would understand and appreciate. 🙂 My favourite was the first essay about joining libraries (I can’t see that happening anytime soon) and her anecdotes about Fadiman U. Sounds like she great up in a fantastically bookish environment.

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