Ex Libris, by Anne Fadiman. Pub 1998
I remember exactly how and where I came upon this now-treasured collection of essays (and its companion, At Large and At Small) – it was in 2008, on a vacation in Victoria, and a visit to that Mecca for booklovers, Munro’s Books. My favourite spot in the store is the centre section where the subject is “Miscellaneous” and the stacks of books are in no order whatsoever. While there are no pulp fictions items anywhere nearby (in fact, I think these are not found anywhere in Munro’s), this eclectic collection covers fiction, non-fiction, art, literature, humour, biography, history, Canadiana, poetry, and self-help. I have found some real gems alongside some fools gold. These Fadimans were true jewels.
Since they are short, they are often a go-to for me, when I need something familiar and erudite to distract me from whatever (even another book). I sometimes think that I might read just one essay, but the language is so wonderful and the stories so intimate and lovely that I end up rereading the entire thing. That was the case in early December. I was starting on a much larger novel and was finding it a slog (and heavy to tote beyond the house), so I reached out to Anne for some comforting distraction.
The Ex Libris collection documents the Fadiman family love and life with books. A bit about reading and writing, but more about solid, bound, paper-and-ink books. Told with love and affection, the revelations about the Fadimans’ adoration of the printed word and the reading of them is heartwarming and heartbreaking at turns, but always absorbing and page-turning.
My favourite is the story of the marriage of libraries – how Anne and her husband eventually merged their not inconsiderable libraries into one when they got married. The arcane rules of organization (authors organized by nationality?) and selection (her copy or his?) reflected their true book-lover status, and the care they took with the amalgamation reflects their love for each other.
Sadly, I believe these books are no longer in print, as my attempts to find copies for friends over the years has been fruitless (used copies frequently turn out to be disappointing at best and near-fraudulent at worst). They are available as e-books and audiobooks (technology prevails) but it seems a sacrilege to have these as anything other than a small hardcopy, complete with dust jacket, as homage to their subject matter, and a talisman for a true booklover.
7 – a book by a female author
9 – a book of essays
18 – a book you can read in one day (but this is one worth savouring over several)