Marcie's Reviews > At Large and at Small: Familiar Essays

At Large and at Small by Anne Fadiman
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May 23, 10

Read in May, 2010

I struggled with whether to give this 4 or 5 stars because it's not my favorite Anne Fadiman book (_Ex Libris_ was so funny and endearing and _The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down_ was so fascinating and relevant to my interests), but it's still extremely well written, interesting, educational and funny. I may have said it before, but essays are one of my favorite genres (tied for first with British children's novels). I just get a lot out of the mix of anecdote + nonfiction + opinion(s) I tend to find in essays.

The worst part of this book is Fadiman's casual reference to her elite upbringing/lifestyle. (Maybe she doesn't know how she sounds when she tosses out mention of her lawn's "topiary peacocks" or when she identifies her Harvard dorm so familiarly (since who wouldn't know the famous Dunster Hall?) or when she repeatedly calls her current home "our SoHo loft"? Or maybe everyone in her circle just talks like that, or maybe she's just being herself?) Regardless, this is a minor irritation in an otherwise lovely collection of essays.

The many best parts of this book follow. To anyone who has read that Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society book: Fadiman includes an essay on Charles Lamb, who is frequently mentioned in the Potato Peel Pie book, and one on Coleridge, one of his contemporaries. Both essays are well researched, pretty funny and made me want to read more of their subjects' works. There are delightful essays on coffee and ice cream, which I particularly enjoyed, since those are 2 of Marcie's med school food groups (the third and fourth being "free pizza" and "protein bars"). The essay on "Mail" documents the history of the Victorian mail system and the beginning of the use of stamps, and has some hilarious commentary on email (LOL!!!). Her essays on the American flag (and specifically its changing significance after 9/11) and on a classmate who died on a canoe trip are more serious, but she excels equally in this arena as in humor. The only essay I didn't connect with very well was entitled "Procrustes and the Culture Wars;" it seemed oriented toward academics studying literature, and I didn't feel like I had the background to follow her points as well as I could have, were I her intended audience. All in all, very enjoyable read, and I hope there is much more to come from Fadiman.
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