Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Book #74: Ex Libris

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common ReaderTitle: Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
Author: Anne Fadiman

If I had to choose three words to describe myself to grace my tombstone (a la Thomas Jefferson), "reader" would definitely be one of the three. I do a lot of things (writing, running, baking, raising kids) but I'm probably more defined by the fact that I read 100+ books a year than by anything else. So naturally I'm intrigued by any book where the author defines herself as a bibliophile in the title (and even more when that author is Anne Fadiman, who wrote the wonderful book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down). I've read similar books by other authors (this reminds me a lot of Anna Quindlen's How Reading Changed My Life, although I'd say that Ex Libris is more erudite (the title is even in Latin). Anyway, the book is a series of about a twenty short essays that Fadiman wrote over half a dozen years about her love of reading and of books. In the first essay, she writes about the agonizing process that she and her husband undertook to combine their books (ten years after they met-- they had a child together before they made their libraries as one).

Reading Ex Libris made me realize that there are thousands of books, good, "important" books that every educated reader should know (for example, I've never read one of Updike's "Rabbit" books) that I'll never read. I felt the same kind of pain I do when walking into a Barnes and Noble-- so many books, so little time. I even feel a twinge of "I'll never conquer it all" when I look at the pile on my nightstand (but it doesn't prevent me from reading crap, you know). Despite finishing Ex Libris with an additional score of books on my reading list, and a bit of an inferiority complex, one of the things I loved most about Ex Libris is how the essays are not just about how she loves reading, but how her love for her family is demonstrated through her love of books. She touches on just about everyone close to her-- parents, sibling, children, and most especially, her dear husband George, and I felt that including these personal stories in the essays made the work about a lot more than just words on pages stuffed on shelves.

1 comment:

anna said...

Shelah, I secretly read your blog all the time and read a lot of your recommendations. So thank you, and keep reading :)

In response to this book and post, I thought I should pass on what my psychiatrist said when I told her I quite frequently sit with a good book and a super messy house:
"I have never had a patient come in and say: I am so happy my mom was super clean. But people always talk about how much their parents loved to read, how it made them interesting people and their home filled with interesting discussions."

That made me feel better and just encouraged more time reading and less time cleaning :)