Ex Libris, Anne Fadiman

Ah, books about books.  I read this because I can’t get ahold of Nick Hornby’s much-touted books about books.  Anne Fadiman writes about all kinds of aspects of loving books: marrying libraries, loving your books, plagiarism – all kinds of things.  I liked some of these essays a lot – the one about marrying libraries made me wince because I could picture myself agonizing over how to organize and sort out my books with someone else’s.

I was interested to read an essay from the perspective of a woman who loves books and doesn’t mind destroying them.  (I wrote, destroying me, and didn’t notice until I was about to hit publish on this post.  That should tell you how I feel about it.)  I’m what she calls a courtly lover, and it has never kept me from enjoying the hell out of my books.  I don’t understand the carnal love that she and her family feel for books.  I just don’t.  Even after she explained it, and talked about all the things that courtly lovers are missing, I couldn’t understand how anyone could think this way.  I still own the copy of Jane Eyre that I read when I was eight years old.  Ditto Little Women, and Peter Pan (a little younger), and all of Edward Eager’s books except for Magic or Not, which has gotten lost over the years, to my serious distress.  Imagine if I had smooshed the pages all around or God, torn them out and thrown them away.

To me, books get better the longer you have them.  Whenever I pick up my copy of Little Women, I remember how excited I was to get it, and how pleased I was because it was huge, and I had to sit with it open on my lap because it was too heavy for me to hold up for any period of time.  I have my copy of Caroline B. Cooney’s Among Friends from when I was nine years old, and some girls at school were making my life a misery.  My mother had told me about Among Friends and how it was about a girl in a similar situation to mine, and I remember I was brushing my teeth, and she came into the bathroom and said, “What book do you want more than any other book in the world?” and I said, “Among Friends,” and there it was, she had bought it for me!

I don’t know.  I love that books have a history, and if you treat them like crap, they’ll never grow old enough to have that.  They’ll get all torn up and mussed, and eventually you’ll have to buy a new copy and start all over again.  What about you?  Are you careful of your books?  Do you get attached to specific copies?

Funnily enough, I couldn’t relate to her story about her favorite pen.  At least, not much.  I am a fan of pens, and I’m always looking for the exactly right pen, but I don’t tend to get fond of particular, individual pens.  I miss some pens that I’ve had before, but only because I haven’t been able to find the same pen to replace them once they got lost or ran out of ink.  I always write my stories on the computer, and I have since I was a little bitty girl – my thoughts just flow better that way.  But my books, now, I would be crushed if I lost any of my old books.

Other views:
Stainless Steel Droppings
an adventure in reading
Rose City Reader

9 thoughts on “Ex Libris, Anne Fadiman

  1. I do get attached to certain copies of books, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a favorite pen. At least, not since I quit drawing so much. I enjoyed this book very much. It’s a bit more accessible (I mean readable) than Nick Hornby.

  2. Hm, interesting – that’s nice, given that I can’t get hold of Nick Hornby’s books right now, but unfortunate for the day when I do get hold of them. Are his books less readable because they focus more on specific books, and it’s not as interesting if you haven’t read those books? Or is his writing just less engaging?

  3. The writing style is quite different- not as musing, jumps topics quicker, and he tends to talk a lot about British literature (and sports) which I’m not as familiar with. I don’t know, really, Fadiman just felt more- friendly. And conversational. Hornby is conversational too, but not the kind of conversation I picture myself having (if that makes sense). I guess I’m just feeling a little low about it because I was so excited to get ahold of his third book-column compliation and then couldn’t get into it. I actually had to set it aside to try again later (and I loved the first two!)

  4. I just joined a new library system and added this book to my wishlist. I’ve wanted to read it forever, but my former library didn’t own a copy and I was too lazy to interlibrary loan a copy! Ha! I read the first of Hornby’s two, and while I enjoyed it, I felt a distinct sense of detachment because I hadn’t read a majority of the titles he was writing about. I guess I sort of lost interest. Anyway, very much looking forward to Fadiman’s stuff! Thanks for a great review!

  5. Jeane – That does make sense. I am actually not the hugest fan of Nick Hornby ever. I enjoy reading his books once – for some reason I was convinced I was going to enjoy his books about books.

    Andi – I enjoyed it a lot. I always advocate interlibrary loans, but I never do them at my public library either – hope you enjoy it now that you can get it!

  6. I really enjoyed this a few years ago! I don’t remember the favorite pen story, but I’m not much of a pen person; I type more than I write, so my handwriting just keeps getting worse. I remember her story about marrying libraries together and I liked that. My husband didn’t have much of a library (he doesn’t like to collect books) so I was disappointed I couldn’t marry our books together 😦

  7. I know, my handwriting is terrible. I was trying to clean up my room yesterday and came across a letter I had written in high school, and I just couldn’t believe how nice my handwriting was back then! So tidy and organized!

    I think there might be a good side to not marrying libraries. There’s this bit in When Harry Met Sally, when Harry says, “Do me a favor, for your own good, put your name in your books right now before they get mixed up and you don’t know whose is whose.” Completely freaked me out! I never used to write my name in my books, and now I ALWAYS do. I expect when I get engaged, I’ll go on a rampage through all my books making sure my name’s in all of them. (Paranoid.)

  8. I just read this book and posted my review on Rose City Reader.

    Your review is terrific. If you would like me to list it on mine, please leave a comment on mine with a link and I will add it. I don’t like to add a link without asking first, but I prefer a comment on mine to let me know because I forget to come back and look. 🙂

    I am definitely a “courtly” book lover. Like you, I could not understand the other point of view. I even cringe when I see a pocket paperback with a creased spine.

    As for pens . . . her essay about her favorite pen irked me because I used to have a favorite fountain pen and it went kaput. I’ve tried for the last 20 years to fix or replace it, with no luck. So her essay inspired nothing but pen envy in me.

    • When I acquire a pocket paperback with a creased spine, I straightaway get out my contact paper and cover it, to protect it from further damage. I feel extremely satisfied every time I do this.

      Poor you about your fountain pen! My sister one time gave me this set of colored pens in my Christmas stocking, and they were the most amazing pens ever. The ink flow was exactly right, and they were in pretty colors, and I used them for everything – poems, stories, Arabic homework, my commonplace book, everything. Only I’ve never been able to find those exact pens again. If I ever saw them in a shop, I’d buy ten sets.

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