Nenia Campbell's Reviews > Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader

Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman
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Mar 06, 14

bookshelves: self-referential, mem-wars, x-1990s
Read on May 07, 2012

yes, yes, yes!

we need more books like this! books about people's frolicksome forays into the wonderful world of literature. if you're in the gen-y age bracket like me, you probably remember that old tv show from the 80s-90s: reading rainbow - right? books like these are the equivalent of reading rainbow for adults – they make reading fun!

it is a rare treat to find someone who loves to read as much as i do. anne fadiman gets it. really gets it.

“a book's words were holy, but the paper, cloth, cardboard, glue, thread, and ink that contained them were a mere vessel, and it was no sacrilege to treat them as wantonly as desire and pragmatism dictated. hard use was a sign not of disrespect but of intimacy” (38).


this is exactly how i feel. i take my books with me everywhere – stuff them in a purse, or at the bottom of the backpack, stack 'em up like socks in the bottom of a suitcase. i read them on buses, in cars (i used to get carsick but quickly conditioned myself to get used to reading on long bumpy roads), in waiting rooms of all kinds, at home, at work. i have even tried to bring them to the movie theatre (“but mom! movie previews are boring!” “don't be ridiculous!”); to fancy dinners (“the waiters there take forever, can't i – ” “NO!”); and to music concerts (“it's ok, it's MY concert and i don't want to watch the freshmen make arses of themselves – again. plus the conductor said it would be ok as long as i don't rifle the pages like miniature gunshots”).

i am a terrible, abusive person when it comes to books. i mark passages. sometimes, if they're psychology or sociology books (of which my odd shelf is full) i even highlight or add comments. i dog-ear pages with passages that i like so i can incorporate them into my reviews or write them down later. if you look at my textbooks from college, it is as if a neon demon traversed the pages, leaving behind trails of post-its, stickies, crude drawings and grafts, notes written to and by friends, in a myriad of colors and styles. i never tried to sell them back: not only because i wanted to keep them for reference but also because i thought the student cashier might laugh in my face. on one of them, the cover danged off like a crooked window shutter.

but back to the awesomeness that is fadiman. she cracked me up; and she's so lucky to have a husband that loves to read as much as she does. he gave her books with inscriptions? -sigh- none of my boyfriends were particularly literate. one of them even went so far as to call me a book snob, to which i responded, “well! at least i'm a book snob with taste!” which is true, in my opinion; if you're going to carry the label, you might as well do it right – and with class. i'll be the first to admit how much i hated fear and loathing in las vegas, the stranger, and to kill a mockingbird. i will also just as freely admit that at home, daphne du maurier and jane austen rub shoulders with maria v. snyder and ann aguirre. i may be a book snob, but i carry on without any illusions or pretensions.

loving books isn't about how respected or chockful of literary merit the author is; it's about fun, it's about memories – it's about getting inside other's heads and having a good romp around. in this spirit, fadimin includes a lovely quote from thomas babbington macaulay, with whom she also feels a readerly kinship:

“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!” (64).


ooh, would that i could word my thoughts as succinctly and eloquently as that! this is what i tell people when they ask me why i prefer reading over television and movies; it's complete immersion; there's no sound, no distracting visual stimuli – you produce all the special effects in your own head. i know i'm reading a winner when i glance up to look at the clock thinking fifteen minutes have gone by and realize that, no, it's actually been three straight hours and i've plowed through three hundred pages without even realizing it.

when i was younger, though, my imagination was a lot better because, i think, i took things at face value far more easily. i remember the first time i read harry potter and it was like i really was harry – that distinct line between self and character was far more blurry than it is now, reading as an adult. probably because at ten, you're not quite fully developed yet. but with reading, it really is as though you hold a tiny universe in your hands, which you can vacation to whenever you like, and if you don't like, you can chuck it in a box and be done with it forever. lovely.

my mom said i would love this book because she knows i am a total book whore; she was write right (that typo was actually accidental... how funny haha). and lo and behold, many of the pages were dog-eared and marked up by my mother, so i could tell which quotes and new words had jumped out and caught her eye (the quote by macaulay was underlined by her). reading is so amazing. it's such a lovely experience to meet people who feel the same way about it as i do – to the same extent, no less! if you love books, or books about books, or books about books by people who love books, then you will like this book.

and if you don't … well, read it anyway! ms. fadiman might just make a believer out of you, yet! four stars!
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