Ex Libris - Anne Fadiman

Anne Fadiman is–by her own admission–the sort of person who learned about sex from her father’s copy of Fanny Hill, whose husband buys her 19 pounds of dusty books for her birthday, and who once found herself poring over her roommate’s 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only written material in the apartment that she had not read at least twice.

This witty collection of essays recounts a lifelong love affair with books and language. For Fadiman, as for many passionate readers, the books she loves have become chapters in her own life story. Writing with remarkable grace, she revives the tradition of the well-crafted personal essay, moving easily from anecdotes about Coleridge and Orwell to tales of her own pathologically literary family. As someone who played at blocks with her father’s 22-volume set of Trollope (“My Ancestral Castles”) and who only really considered herself married when she and her husband had merged collections (“Marrying Libraries”), she is exquisitely well equipped to expand upon the art of inscriptions, the perverse pleasures of compulsive proof-reading, the allure of long words, and the satisfactions of reading out loud. There is even a foray into pure literary gluttony–Charles Lamb liked buttered muffin crumbs between the leaves, and Fadiman knows of more than one reader who literally consumes page corners. Perfectly balanced between humor and erudition, Ex Libris establishes Fadiman as one of our finest contemporary essayists.  – Goodreads


I absolutely love books by and about people who love books. Between their pages I find an instant friend, someone who understands my particular quirks and obsessions. I find one of my people. Anne Fadiman is most definitely one of my people.

This book is a selection of essays on various different aspects of bookish interest, from both sides of the page: writing and reading.

From the writing side, my favourite essays included the one on the genetic source of compulsive proofreading (I have that gene!) and the importance attached by many writers to their chosen tools. In her case, a beaten and ancient Parker fountain pen, given to her by a childhood sweetheart. She discusses how distressed she was by its loss, and her attempts to replace it (she went so far as to track down another of the same model and shell out to have it fixed – only to discover that it still just wasn’t quite right). I nodded my way through this chapter, then picked up my favourite Lamy fountain pen to write about it in one of my Moleskine notebooks. Cos that’s how I roll.

But it was her essays on the quirks of the avid reader that really had me yelling “Yes!”. I think we’ve all experienced the agony of combining book collections with a significant other. Then there’s the “odd shelf” she claims each reader has – a shelf of books representing a strange, often niche interest that others would not expect the reader to have. In her case, it’s arctic exploration.

There’s much, much more in these pages that will intrigue and fascinate every book lover. It’s a small book, one that can easily be finished in a sitting, but that will be immensely satisfying for those who enjoy seeing a piece of their bookish selves on the page.

Book Title: Ex Libris
Author: Anne Fadiman
Series: No
Edition: Paperback
Published By: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Released: November 25, 2000
Genre: Essays, Non-Fiction, Bibliophilia
Pages: 162

Date Read: December 22-26, 2014
Rating: 8/10


  1. M.

    Haha! Yeah, I know that feeling! Not every chapter was a home run, but enough really had me enthralled that overall I thought it was a fantastic read for book-lovers. Looking forward to hearing what you think!


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