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!

“Never do that to a book”?

I have to confess to never having read any of Anne Fadiman´s books, even though they seem to be ones I´d really enjoy. My library doesn´t appear to put much stock in their appeal to a wider readership. Since they like to acquire picture books in different languages, I have given up on trying to figure out how the librarians´minds work.

Vishy was kind enough to send me Fadiman´s essay “Never Do That to a Book” to get me to confess to my worst habits in handling books 😉 For those who haven´t read this particular essay or else cannot remember Fadiman´s thoughts, let me give a short summary:

Fadiman distinguishes between two types of booklovers, the courtly lover and the carnal lover. Courtly lovers believe in treating books like newborns, very very carefully. They are the ones that murder you if there is the slightest indication in the cover that you´ve read the book they lent you. Carnal lovers on the other hand do not believe that it shows disregard to a book´s content if they dog-ear a book, rip out chapters, and generally “love (their) books to pieces”.

Regardless of Fadiman´s convincing anecdotes, I think that booklovers rarely fall so clearly into one or the other category. It´s the complete arbitrariness in the treatment of books of those who fall between the categories that´s much more interesting and I believe also more common.

I have never treated books so carefully that no one looking at them could tell they´d been read (or even touched). I used to dog-ear the pages but seem to have mostly grown out of this habit, I´m not sure why, might be because I now usually have something bookmark-like on hand (carrying lots of paper around with you might just be a grown-up thing). Even worse, I´m an unapologetic spine-breaker. The first thing I do after opening a book is to firmly bend the book so that it doesn´t fall shut with something akin to speed-of-light and I won´t have to use as much strength to keep the book open as I do when I´m carrying my library loot. So yes, you can tell from looking at the spine that the book has been or is being read, but this has rarely resulted in pages falling out. I also leave books lying facedown when I´m at home and take a break to get a cup of tea or something. Bookmarks are for marking the page when I´m carrying a book around with me and then I´m not very choosey about my bookmarks. They might be receipts or post-its, postcards, a flyer, and sometimes even an actual pretty bookmark.  I recently got one which has an elastic string with which you can mark the page, keep the book closed and the bookmark from falling out, I love that one. However, I´d never rip pages or whole chapters out of books and throw the rest away. Apparently some people throw away the pages they´ve read when they are travelling so that they don´t have to carry the whole book with them. That is something I´d never do, I actually spent hours taping together loose pages of Agatha Christie mysteries in my teens, when my mother and I had both read them all so often that they were indeed loved to pieces.

Fadiman also mentions that to some “the most terrible (. . .) thing one can leave in a book is one´s own words”. In that regard I probably come close to the attitude of a courtly lover. I hardly ever write in my books but instead use post-its as pagemarkers. Weirdly enough this makes them look slightly academic in my eyes, weirdly, because I have no problem desecrating non-fiction at all. Highlighting in atrocious candyland colours, making notes, underlining, no problem. But doing that to a fun book, a work of prose, that´s something that´s actually almost painful to me. As a student of literature, it´s something I cannot always avoid. If the book is just part of class discussions then I underline things in pencil and make a few notes in the margins, but  if it´s a book I´m using for a paper I treat it exactly as I would non-fiction but can never really look at or even read that edition again.

Oh and all this applies only to my own books, not to library books or ones I´ve borrowed from friends!

How do you treat your books? Are you a courtly or a carnal lover of books?

And now for something completely different: I´m going home tomorrow for a week of holidays to see family and friends (thus the picture above) so I´m not sure how much I´m going to be around here. I have some reviews typed up and set to be posted but will probably not have much time to read all your posts and comment as much. Please don´t be upset, I´ll try to catch up when I get back!