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Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  6,775 ratings  ·  1,078 reviews
Anne Fadiman is--by her own admission--the sort of person who learned about sex from her father's copy of Fanny Hill, whose husband buys her 19 pounds of dusty books for her birthday, and who once found herself poring over her roommate's 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only written material in the apartment that she had not read at least twice.

This witty col
Paperback, 162 pages
Published November 25th 2000 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1998)
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Community Reviews

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Like many a Goodreader, no doubt, I have a thing for books about books. In this particular case, there’s a chapter in the book about books about books. (It might be tempting someday to write a book about such books about books about books, but let’s not get silly, or meta-silly for that matter.) Anyway, Fadiman’s essays are as elegant and well-written as my introduction is awkward and inane. She’s the kind of bookworm friend we’d all ‘like’ to the stratosphere here on this site.

Fadiman is the da
Jun 05, 2013 Madeleine rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who considers him- or herself a bibliophile
Recommended to Madeleine by: Steve
If you'll excuse what I know has to sound like a weak attempt at an obvious pun, I find that books are easier to read than people. I summon far less effort to read a page than a face, a chapter than mixed body language: Even the subtext and allusions and metaphors are all naught but new takes on old tricks, and the most elusive hidden messages are often buried no deeper than a careful reexamination of text laid bare with a willingness most people eschew in the name of self-preservation and tactf ...more
Just a couple weeks ago, a great review of this book popped up on my update feed, (Ah, the magic of Goodreads) so when I spotted it at a booksale I went to last week for a dollar, I grabbed it quick. If you haven't read Jon's review yet, check it out:

Thanks to a bout of insomnia last night, I finished this and loved it. I feel like shoving this book onto some family and friends who think I'm much too obsessed with all things book. All of these essays show
October 2012

I don't always read books about books, but when I do, my to-read list suddenly grows. Still, it's nice to read someone who understands me so well:
"Alas," wrote Henry Ward Beecher. "Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore!" Mine is relatively strong at Barnes & Noble, because I know that if I resist a volume on one visit, and someone else buys it, an identical volume will pop up in its place like a plastic duck in a shooting gallery. And if I resist that one, there will
Diane Librarian
I loved this collection of bookish essays. One of my favorite pieces was "Marrying Libraries," which was when Anne and her husband, George, decided to combine their book collections:

"We ran into trouble when I announced my plan to arrange English literature chronologically but American literature alphabetically by author. My defense went like this: Our English collection spanned six centuries, and to shelve it chronologically would allow us to watch the broad sweep of literature unfold before ou
There are two groups of people in this world. The first are erotically aroused by eating voluptuous, dripping fruits and having the fruity, pulpy juices trickle down their chins. The second would just like to get to a sink and wash it all off. Count me among the latter. Anne Fadiman is the former:

I have always preferred Keats to Wordsworth, but I was never able to put my finger on why until I read that Wordsworth, according to a visitor, "will live for a month on cold beef, and the next on cold
Ruby  Tombstone [With A Vengeance]
Jun 16, 2012 Ruby Tombstone [With A Vengeance] rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: prigs, pendants, prudes, snobs
Recommended to Ruby by: Derek (Guilty of thoughtcrime)
In the spirit of full disclosure, this book was selected for me as part of a Bossy Book Challenge. A book of essays about reading is certainly something I would never have chosen for myself, but I did try to keep an open mind..

I understand why people like this book. The writer obviously truly loves books to the point of obsession, and anyone with a love of books will find something to relate to here. Unfortunately, that thing is unlikely to be the writer herself. The book's subtitle is, "Confess
Yet another case of had I read this book a mere few years ago, four stars would have been a guarantee, five if I was feeling especially forlorn due to few real life acquaintances even liking the concept of a book, let alone sharing my fervent devotion for the written word in bound and paged form. Alas, while I added this book more than two years ago, I didn't get around to a finally acquired copy till now, and the three stars would need a great deal of this way or that motion to raise or lower i ...more
This book is primarily a book of humor. There are 18 essays, all of which are related to books and you and me, the people who read them. It is a book about us! Of course some essays are better than others. The majority had me laughing, but not all. How do you organize your library? Are you a courtly book-lover or a carnal one? I am carnal, meaning that I write in my books and don't hesitate one second to use then for other purposes. They follow me around, get dirty, squished in bags, are taken t ...more
This is a delightful slim book, a collection of personal essays about her love of reading.
In "Marrying Libraries", she and her husband embark on merging their libraries. "After five years of marriage and a child, George and I finally resolved that we were ready for the more profound intimacy of library consolidation." They had to agree on which order to shelve their books, how to deal with the duplicates, whether to be a lumper or a splitter. "His books commingled democratically....mine were ba
It has become familiar. Perhaps, excessively so. I have ventured again for family reasons to a funeral home. This is five times in the last nine months. This reflects a turning of corners in my family dynamics. While it isn't unusual for people at my work to pass prematurely, there has been a statistical glut in my family where people live beyond the norm and have now passed in quick succession. I have also begun buying books with regularity upon leaving the funeral home or cemetery. In itself, ...more
I walked past Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader at the library and immediately turned around. Without reading the dust jacket, I added the book to my pile. Any book about books must be a good book.

After reading Ex Libris, I'm not so sure. The collection of essays is ten years old, and they already feel dated—particularly an essay about pens and typewriters. More than anything, though, I take umbrage with the subtitle. Fadiman is anything but the “common reader.” She is the
This short collection of essays on the reading life is a true delight of a book. Anne Fadiman writes with self-depreciating joy about the pleasures and pains of the book obsessed, and reading her confessions helped reawaken (and soothe my guilt) about my own book-related afflictions. Her ruminations on marrying libraries (a task I have not yet been bold enough to undertake with my own husband), the art of inscriptions, and her clever discussion on plagiarism and the originality (or lack thereof) ...more
Jan 28, 2008 Kathryn rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: book lovers!
Recommended to Kathryn by: Melanie (thank you!)
Shelves: non-fiction
I finished this book on my flight home from Florida and it provided me with great pleasure amidst my great dislike of flying. (Perchance I would have given it five stars had I read it from the cozy comfort of the couch in my den!) It felt so chummy to hear Anne's discussion of her love of books (both literary and tactile!) and I found myself nodding with agreement for many of her observations and confessions.

My favorite essays:
Marrying Libraries (of the joys and tribulations of merging one's li
Lisa Vegan
Jul 17, 2007 Lisa Vegan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone on goodreads,those who love beautiful language, essays
This is one of my favorite books. The daughter of Clifton Fadiman can write! These are wonderful essays about life, family, and most importantly, about books & reading. All are interesting & written beautifully, and they also have a lot of warmth & humor. This is a book worth owning to be able to reread certain essays every once in a while.

This book is a perfect gift for anyone who enjoys reading, books, and language.
Jason Pettus
Although there are exceptions to this, in general I am not much of a fan of meta-nerd "books about books written for obsessive lovers of books," nor of essays that treat physical books themselves as precious sacred objects, to be lusted after like sex symbols and used to partially define who we are in the first place. (For what it's worth, I instead tend to look at books as simple delivery vehicles for what's truly important, the information being conveyed on their pages through the codified use ...more
Mar 22, 2009 rivka rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: all book lovers
Recommended to rivka by: Jennie Peterson
Shelves: borrowed, non-fiction
I enjoyed this book, but perhaps not nearly as much as some of my friends seem to have. It's always nice to read something that makes me feel that someone out there is like me and/or my family -- that we're not completely crazy! ;)

So reading about another kid who was taught NOT to say "the hoi polloi", someone else who can't help but proofread menus, who is an obsessive book collector -- these are cool.

However. Anne Fadiman has an annoying to tendency to assume that her delineations are univers
Sep 26, 2007 Natalie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who loves to read
My aunt Heather recommended this book to me. She is exactly the type of reader Anne Fadiman is and also very frugal. So instead of buying books as gifts for me she mails me short lists of books she thinks I will enjoy and should check out at my local library.
This one was an easy beach read for me one year at Myrtle and then I read it again on a winter break. I later gave it to my cousin-in-law for a gift so I no longer have a copy of it by as I remember them each of the short stories were base
Eveline Chao
I went into this expecting that I was going to LOVE it. After all, it's a woman who loves books writing about her love of books, and, hey, I love books too. But, I ended up not really connecting with it. Every once in a while there would be a sentence here or a passage there that I loved, but for the most part I felt alienated by this woman's relationship to books, which felt SO different from mine and, honestly, a little bit elite. I guess it just felt like she was addressing an audience of peo ...more
Nidah (SleepDreamWrite)
Been in a books about books mood lately. This is one of them. Basically what I been reading so far, books with a book theme to it really. This was interesting, good but interesting.
This book is an excellent collection of essays on the reading life. The title is a reference to Virginia Woolf (The Common Reader, the First and Second Series), who borrowed it from Samuel Johnson’s Life of Gray, who wrote of “all those rooms, too humble to be called libraries, yet full of books, where the pursuit of reading is carried on by private people. The common reader, as Dr. Johnson implies, differs from the critic and the scholar. He is worse educated, and nature has not gifted him so g ...more
A delightful collection of essays by a bibliophile, for fellow bibliophiles. Small enough for a pocket, great for dipping in to.

She describes growing up a sesquipedalian, the joys (and otherwise) of trying to merge her library with that of her husband, the quirks of proof reading, and much more, as she shares her love of all things literary.

A delight from cover to cover and worth every one of the very pennies it costs.
So Weird Al needs to dedicate his song “Word Crimes” to the Fadiman family, and I really want to met Fadiman and her husband George. (I swear, if I find they are divorced, I will sob uncontrollably for a minute).

I picked this up at one of those really cheap book stores. You know the type with tables and not bookshelves. It was a pleasant surprise to read this book.

Now, to be fair, not every essay in the book is great. The first one, however, is a beautiful piece of writing about love, marriage
Anne Fadiman is wonderful and brilliant and witty (and poignant, why not?) and you should all read her. This volume is a series of her personal essays on books and reading; perhaps I didn't love it quite as much as the other book of hers I've read (At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays) but the Goodreads scoring method doesn't allow for such infinitesimal adjustments.

One of Fadiman's essays, "Never do that to a book", is about the difference between the "courtly" love of books and a "carnal" on
Jul 14, 2009 Wendi rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Sarah Brannon
Recommended to Wendi by: Tina Dalton
My friend subconsciously suggested this book to me after a conversation we had about finding treasures hidden in books. She had just purchased a book for her husband, used book (the best kind), and within its pages she found a treasure trove of items left by the former owner(s). It sparked me to tell her how wonderful I thought that was, and how I loved finding notes scribbled in the margins of books. That's when she told me about Ex Libris.

This book may be sub-titled Confessions of A Common Rea
Koji Mukai
This is a collection of essays first published in Civilization, the magazine of the Library of Congress, which is where I first read many of them. These essays were written by, for, and about booklovers. My favorites include "Never Do That to a Book" where the author discusses two different ways to love a book - "courtly love" in which the reader tries to keep the book in as pristine a state as possible vs. "carnal love" in which the reader does not care a bit about the appearances of a book, le ...more
This book was WAAY too much fun. Anne Fadiman is Clifton Fadiman's daughter, and she has collected this book of essays about book-love. She is funny and frank and the book is a delight. There are essays on merging her library with her husband's, on the delight of finding long, delicious words, on sonnets, on "carnal-love" book lovers versus "courtly-love" book lovers (for the record, I'm in the carnal-love category--my books know they are loved), ink pens, flyleaf inscriptions, the compulsive ed ...more
Dec 24, 2009 Kate rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those who love to read and those who are trying to understand them
Shelves: nonfiction
Does your home look like a second hand bookstore? Does buying, reading, annotating, indexing, housing, and writing reviews about books save you from paralyzing stress? When you go to other peoples homes and you only see blank white walls, do you cringe in fear? Is your pen collection something you just can't live without?

If you answered "yes" to all of these questions then Anne Fadiman's essay collection Ex Libris Confessions of a Common Readeris a book you must add to your list for immediate c
Most of you just aren't nerdy enough to love this book as much as I do. (Sorry. And also, congratulations.) Only true bibliophiles get a kick out of reading books about... reading books.

This entire work is a collection of essays from one author on the art of reading, focused primarily on her individual experiences with books themselves. If walking into Barnes & Noble with money to spend feels better than Christmas morning, if one of your children is named after your favorite Dickens or Aust
These essays covered a number of book-related topics that I'm interested in - how to care for a book, arranging books on a shelf, vocabulary, plagiarism, etc. My favorite essay was "My Odd Shelf," about readers' collections of books on their pet topics, whether it be Arctic exploration, pornography or the Han Dynasty.
For me the weakness of the book was the author's light touch, her upbeat, pleased-with-herself voice. She asks you to feel fondly about her literary family, frequently referring to
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Anne Fadiman, the daughter of Annalee Whitmore Jacoby Fadiman, a screenwriter and foreign correspondent, and Clifton Fadiman, an essayist and critic, was born in New York City in 1953. She graduated in 1975 from Harvard College, where she began her writing career as the undergraduate columnist at Harvard Magazine. For many years, she was a writer and columnist for Life, and later an Editor-at-Larg ...more
More about Anne Fadiman...
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures At Large and at Small: Familiar Essays Rereadings: Seventeen writers revisit books they love The Best American Essays 2003 The Spirit Catches You When You Fall Down

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“My daughter is seven, and some of the other second-grade parents complain that their children don't read for pleasure. When I visit their homes, the children's rooms are crammed with expensive books, but the parent's rooms are empty. Those children do not see their parents reading, as I did every day of my childhood. By contrast, when I walk into an apartment with books on the shelves, books on the bedside tables, books on the floor, and books on the toilet tank, then I know what I would see if I opened the door that says 'PRIVATE--GROWNUPS KEEP OUT': a child sprawled on the bed, reading.” 403 likes
“I have never been able to resist a book about books.” 110 likes
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