Anne Fadiman

Anne Fadiman
Ex Libris 

Anne Fadiman’s beautifully wrought essays celebrate the written word and the obsessions it spawns. She speaks from long experience on the urge to correct misspellings on menus and signs; the art of inscribing books given as gifts; and the mania for sesquipedilians (excessively long words).

Fadiman uses language with the precision and fluency of one born to the task, as if she had imbibed a liquid version of the OED in her baby bottles. (Her father was the distinguished man of letters Clifton Fadiman.) The breadth of her knowledge is equally impressive, though hardly unexpected from someone whose whole family routinely outperformed the GE College Bowl teams on TV, banging the arm of a chair in lieu of pressing a buzzer. “Fadiman U. always yelled out the answer before Robert Earle, the M.C., could even finish asking the question . . . ‘After being poisoned and shot several times—’ WHOMP! ‘Rasputin!’ ”

Bibliophiles will savor the literary references, such as this quote from Vincent Starrett on the joy of shopping for used books: “Every new search is a voyage to the Indies, a quest for buried treasure, a journey to the end of the rainbow.”

Ex Libris is every bit as personal as it is erudite. Fadiman describes how her brother, on returning to a hotel room where he has left a volume lying facedown, finds this stern note from the chambermaid: SIR, YOU MUST NEVER DO THAT TO A BOOK. Her “odd shelf” contains 64 works on polar exploration (a taste she shares with Nancy Mitford). And for Fadiman, the defining moment in marriage comes when she and her husband merge their libraries.

Anyone who treasures books is sure to appreciate this one.

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