Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

A book about books that I’ve wanted to read this for a number of years. Anne Fadiman wrote 18 essays over four years about reading and books.

The essays cover such wide range of bookish topics such as book arrangement, poetry writing, book treatment, writing new and unknown words from books whilst reading, book inscriptions, reading books in the locations they are set, private readings, secondhand books, and a few more.

“What a blessing it is to love books as I love them, to be able to converse with the dead, and to live amidst the unreal!” — Thomas Babington Macaulay

This is definitely one of the better books about books I’ve read over the years even though I can’t relate to the author all the time, more on that later. Still, I think because of that difference, it was thought provoking. The essays gave me the idea to arrange books in chronological order especially for those classics pre-20th century. Right now, I arrange my books haphazardly over four locations by subject and priority in the read queue. I do arrange my cookbooks by colour though two of them are vintage and all 15 cover four decades.

Her essay on how to treat and love books was interesting. She divides them between courtly book lovers (those who maintain their love by keeping the books pristine) vs carnal book lovers (they love their books to bits including writing, ripping, breaking them). I am definitely more the former than the latter. I don’t really like writing in books, and when my copy of Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince split, I was sad and went out to buy a new one. I also am wary of lending my books out for a similar reason; I’ll usually just give them away or give another copy. Few things annoy me more than people who rip and write unnecessary notes in library books. I don’t care what people do to their own books, but library books are public common goods. /End Rant.

I should really read out loud more though and be open to inscribing books to my friends. As well as writing new words from books. I always read too fast to stop and use a dictionary, unless it’s in the Kindle.

“Alas, where is human nature as in the bookstore.” — Henry Wood Beecher

Fadiman comes from a literary family and has one of her own. Her husband is also a voracious reader and a writer. I can’t really imagine if my life would ever be so literary. It’s so hard to find a boy who reads even a tenth of what I do. Fadiman’s bibliophilia is fostered by a prominent intellectual father and a war correspondent mother. Not all readers are raised equal. I think she makes a good point that most writers are fostered by parents who actually love to read.

This book was published 1998 so it does not address recent prominence of audiobooks (though it does mention it once), ebooks and ebook readers. It actually feels dated in a way because people of my generation do not view books the way Fadiman does. Books use to be one of the main sources of entertainment for people and now it’s down the list. Also there is an even steeper decline in classics, language or bookstores. It makes me a bit sad, and reminds me of what Nick Hornby wrote in More Baths, Less Talking that book lovers of his and Fadiman’s generation are older and not the majority. Ultimately, books are not as omnipresent in people’s lives as they use to be. There is far more competing for our entertainment.

In any case, a lovely book about books that I recommend to all my fellow bibliophiles.

Read January 19th 2013.