Saturday, March 23, 11:00 a.m.
Saturday, March 23, 3:30 p.m.
Anne Fadiman is the PERFECT speaker for a Sigma Tau Delta audience of lovers of books, words, libraries, writing, reading, and all things related to language. Fadiman's delightful, funny, witty, and thoroughly entertaining collection of essays, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (1998), is the Sigma Tau Delta Common Reader for 2013. The essays in Ex Libris resonate with all of us who share Fadiman's joy for words and for books. Her essays and articles have appeared in Harper's, the New Yorker, and The New York Times, among many other publications. She is the only writer to have won National Magazine Awards for both reporting (on elderly suicide) and essays (on the multiple and often contradictory meanings of the American flag). She has also written At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays (2007), and edited Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love (2005).
Fadiman's 1997 book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down won the National Book Critics Circle Award. It chronicles the cultural, linguistic, and medical difficulties of a California Hmong family with an epileptic child as they attempt to negotiate the unbreachable gulf between the Hmong and American medical systems. Fadiman was a founding editor of the Library of Congress magazine Civilization, and was the editor of The American Scholar for seven years. As the inaugural Francis Writer in Residence, Yale University's first endowed appointment in nonfiction writing, Anne Fadiman serves as both a professor in the English Department and a mentor to students considering careers in writing or editing.
Excerpt from "Secondhand Prose" (Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader)
Seven hours later, we emerged from the Riverrun Bookstore carrying nineteen pounds of books. (I weighed them when we got home.)
Now you know why I married my husband. In my view, nineteen pounds of old books are at least nineteen times as delicious as one pound of fresh caviar. You may prefer Veuve Cliquot for your birthday, but give me (actually you can't because George beat you to it) a nine-dollar 1929 edition of Vincent Starrett's Penny Wise and Book Foolish, a tender paean to book collecting that contains the following sentence: "Every new search is a voyage to the Indies, a quest for buried treasure, a journey to the end of the rainbow; and whether or not at the end there shall be turned up a pot of gold or merely a delightful volume, there are always wonders along the way."
Not everyone likes used books. The smears, smudges, underlinings, and ossified toast scintillae left by their previous owners may strike daintier readers as a little icky, like secondhand underwear. When I was young I liked my books young as well. Virginal paperbacks, their margins a tabula rasa for narcissistic scribbles, were cheap enough to inspire minimal guilt when I wrote in them and blank enough to accept my defacements without complaint. In those days, just as I believed that age would buffet other people's bodies but not my own, so I believed my paperbacks would last forever. I was wrong on both counts. My college Penguins now explode in clouds of acidic dust when they are prized from their shelves. Penny Wise and Book Foolish, on the other hand, remains ravishing at the age of sixty-eight, its binding still firm and its bottle-green cover only slightly faded.