Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ex Libris - Anne Fadiman

I sometimes fear that my obsession with books is abnormal. Obviously, I love to read. But, sometimes, it's not actually the reading - or the thought that I will never read everything on my to-read list - that causes me anxiety. It is the knowledge that I will never even know what all the books are that are even out there (in the categories of books that I even read, which are of course, just a small percentage of the actual books in this universe). Despite the fact that I have over 120 unread books on my shelves at home, I borrow books from the library by the dozen, and I allow myself the occassional trip to a bookstore to actually purchase books, as well as hiding my compulsive Amazon and purchases from my husband. I troll magazines and websites for new books, and I hate nothing more than when someone mentions a book to me that I have not read - or even worse, one that I have not even heard of (at the same time I also love when this happens because it means there is even more out there for me to discover - so please keep the recommendations coming!). I have found that one way to ease my obsessive anxiety about books is to read books about books - these are books by other compusive readers. Sometimes they contain lists of recommended books. Other times, like with this book by Anne Fadiman (author of the amazing book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down), they are people writing about why they love books so darn much. Ex Libris is a collection of Fadiman's essays - all related somehow to her love of words and reading. In the opening essay, Fadiman discusses the merging of her library with that of her author husband's. While he stacks his books haphazardly this way and that, Fadmian prefers to alphabetize hers or arrange them chronologically, depending on the genre. I particularly enjoyed one essay about different types of readers. There are those who devour their books - scribbling notes in the margins, ripping out pages, writing irrelevant grocery lists on the blank fly pages- because, after all, it is the words that matter, not the book itself. Then there are those who treat their books with prisine care, always using a bookmark (never dog-earring pages). This description reminded me of my brother who used to barely open the pages of his really thick Stephen King novels for fear of cracking the spine. I think I fall somewhere in between. I hate when my books get wet or dirty, and while I love to highlight and keep track of important things, this was a taboo I had to work hard to overcome in college. I love booksmarks of all kinds, but there have been times when I'm at a loss and leave the book splayed open on my nightstand. Fadiman has essays about her outrageously large vocabulary and her love for words. Despite my life-long love of reading, I admit that I have a very small vocabulary. I always tell myself that I'm going to write down the words I come across that I don't know and look them up, but I never do - Fadiman's essays would have given me a very long list to start with! A couple of the essays were a bit too literary or esoteric for my tastes, but the majority were ones in which I recognized myself (though perhaps I am not quite as refined). Fadiman's essays were a reminder that my literary compulsions are not completely abnormal, and that more importantly, they make me happy and I look forward to many more years of reading, new discoveries, and of course, books about books.


Anthony said...

Anne Fadiman's work is great, isn't it? Perhaps you might enjoy Alberto Manguel's works. He has written several books about books. His The Library at Night is the best book of this sub-genre.

annehawk said...

Thanks Anthony! I just read The Library at Night on your suggestion. So different - I really enjoyed it. I'd never heard of Manguel before and truly appreciate the recommendation!

Anthony said...

I'm pleased that you enjoyed it. His History of Reading is also hugely agreeable. He writes beautifully.