I finally read Anne Fadiman’s book Ex Libris this weekend. It has been on my wishlist for a year and on my bookshelf for about six months. It’s a slim paperback of 162 pages, but like most non-fiction, it took me three sittings to make my way through it. Most of the essays come from her column “The Common Reader” in the Library of Congress’ publication Civilization, and they are personal stories about her experiences with books and reading.
Fadiman’s family is a literate one, and far more than my family. I grew up with unorganized bookshelves scattered throughout the house, but I rarely read from them. My parents always had a book or several by their bedside and I read frequently myself. However, we were a library and used-book oriented family that spent more time in the modern fiction section than in non-fiction or the classics. I am not able to fully appreciate Fadiman’s references and reverence for the literature that inspires her, but her delight in it has inspired me to embrace my bookshelves.
For many years I have worked hard to maintain my book collection to the space available on the shelves I own. BookCrossing has helped tremendously in this endeavor. However, I am realizing that my bookshelves no longer represent all of my literary interests. Often I will choose to buy a book for $0.50 or $1 regardless of its condition simply because I don’t plan to keep it for very long. Now that my life is to the point where I won’t be moving every year or so, the prospect of expanding my personal library is more appealing. There’s just one problem. I have too many unread books on my existing shelves! Surprisingly, this is not a concern that Fadiman addresses in her essays. However, I have yet to meet a reader who doesn’t have a shelf or two of unread books in their library.
I was quite amused by the languages she chose from the language tapes in “The Catological Imperative” essay. I studied Twi during the two months I spent in Ghana while in college. I still remember a few phrases, mainly because they were the only ones I ever learned in the first place.
Fair warning to my friends and family: I plan to give copies of this book to the readers I love in the next few years.