Ex Libris, by Anne Fadiman. Penguin, 1998. Hdbk. Nonfiction, Biography.
This small volume (129 pages) contains the reminiscences of a middle-aged mother of two, describing her own growing up in a famous literary family, surrounded by books and immersed in all facets of the publishing business. The book is subtitled “The Common Reader,” a term borrowed from Virginia Woolf, who originally defined the common reader as “a person who reads not as a critic or scholar, but for his own pleasure in an attempt to create for himself some kind of whole.” Fadiman obviously felt the phrase described her own life with books.
Ex Libris is handily divided into chapters of seven or eight pages in length, which is perfect for reading in bed at night. (At least, I have found that eight pages is about all I can get through before falling asleep.) Each chapter covers a different topic. Some examples are: Is it OK to mark your place in a book by leaving it open and face-down? Is it OK to write notes in a book? How much can a writer borrow from other writers before it becomes plagiarism? There’s even a chapter providing instructions for two people moving from separate accommodation into a single apartment on how to merge their libraries into one without precipitating a major battle.
While the author uses memories from her earlier years to illustrate the influence of her family on her reading habits, this book can’t really be categorized as biography or even memoir. The emphasis, rather, is on each individual chapter topic about books, and the author gathers a variety of views and comments from friends and relatives on that topic before adding the experiences from her own life. These family experiences are, however, fondly remembered by the author and make meeting this famous family particularly enjoyable, especially for those who like “books on books. “
- Bruce Balas for Dog Ears Books
(Thank you again, Bruce. Will you please come home from Spain now? The bookstore misses you!)