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

Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman
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's review
Jul 09, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: ms-readathon-2011
Read in July, 2011

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" one. To my horror, it turns out the Fadiman clan are carnal book lovers. Carnalites happily deface their books, turning down pages, writing in the margins, TEARING THE BOOK INTO SECTIONS TO BETTER FIT INTO HANDBAGS and other things that cause the courtly lover to turn all pale and sweaty IF IT HAD EVER OCCURRED TO THEM THAT PEOPLE MIGHT ACTUALLY DO THIS. Carnalites do this out of respect, as they love the words SO MUCH they just cannot help but smear themselves all over the page, binding as much of their own DNA to whatever remains of the actual flesh of the volume.

Now. This book was given to me for my birthday by my dear friend Tash. She is an avid reader; when we shared a house we often swapped books. Book-swapping friends are the best of friends. (Though, she was disappointingly uninterested in early 20th century English detective fiction and PG Wodehouse). Following this essay, I started to notice pencil notations in the margins, around the beginning of "Insert a carrot' an essay about compulsive proofreaders. (Tash's comment on this phrase: "o my lord, kill me"). As you might already have guessed, I'M a compulsive proofreader. Humph, I thought, typical - Tash is a notoriously bad speller (slight exaggeration) and I always derived great pleasure from laughing at the mistakes in the words she put down on the Scrabble board. (She still always wins, though. Incidentally, this is one of the great failures of online Scrabble games - the opportunities for sledging are greatly reduced). However, more significantly, Fadiman later remarks that compulsive proofreaders "savor certain cleaning tasks: removing the lint from the clothes dryer, skimming the drowned bee from the pool". A note from Tash: "- scraping paper?"

I frowned over this comment for some pages, trying to deduce its meaning. After an embarrassingly long time, I realised: Of course, SHE MEANS ME! *I* SCRAPE PAPER FOR A LIVING! How rude. But more importantly, I realised that these were not just the mere idle notations of a sociopath who reads books with a pencil in hand - these were notations aimed at me! GOADING me!

Naturally this increased my enjoyment of the book by a factor of 10. With great effort (yet to be realised) I have resolved to re-read this book and insert marginalia of my own. (In pencil, and there will be no folding down of corners). Then I will lend it to people, who may also insert their own marginalia (in pencil, see previous note about corners). It must always return to me, so I can jealously peruse the words various friends have added and inwardly make judgments about your handwriting. I can't promise my marginalia will be directed to you personally but if in-book sledging evolves I will be most pleased.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Anna (new)

Anna Ryan-Punch Hahaha - sorry for traumatising you! But thick books really do travel better if you divide them up.
I should say that I would never fold/write/tear anyone *else's* book.

pinknantucket Don't worry, and sorry for having fun at the carnalites' expense!! Would you like to borrow my book...?

message 3: by Anna (new)

Anna Ryan-Punch I love fun at my expense.
Hee - I bought that book when it first came out! (It didn't get torn, but did get annotated).

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