Common Reader Review
For those who consider writing a form of romance, a Parker 51 can't hold a candle to a crow's feather, but it sure beats a cartridge pen, a ballpoint, a felt-tip, or a roller-ball, especially those disposable models that proclaim, ‘Don't get too attached, I'm only a one-night stand.' Pencils are fine in their way, but I prefer the immutability of ink...A typewriter ribbon--if it's not self-correcting and if you don't use Wite-Out--may be permanent, but I would hardly call it eternal. The ichor of eternity belongs to India ink and crow's blood, not to machines.
- Anne Fadiman
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (1998)
Inspired by the quirks of her book-loving friends and family, Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader is a series of love letters to books, language, and the colorful people who adore them to the point of obsession. This slim collection of essays describes a life-long infatuation with the written word that any Sigma Tau Deltan should recognize.
There is a certain kind of child who awakens from a book as from an abyssal sleep, swimming heavily up through layers of consciousness toward a reality that seems less real than the dream-state that has been left behind. I was such a child. (ix)
With gracious, self-deprecating humor, Fadiman explores the wonderful and eccentric world of people who devour books (sometimes literally). With essays such as "Marrying Libraries," about the relationship-cementing (or sometimes ending) task of combining and organizing two personal book collections into one, and "Never Do That to a Book," about the eternal debate between "courtly" and "carnal" book lovers, this book will ignite lively discussions and reveal heated factions on such hot-button issues as "Marginalia: good or evil?" and "Compulsive editors: civil servants or annoying pests?"
Other essays delve into "The Joy of Sesquipedalians" (long words), the compulsive need to read everything in sight, and the incredible impact of reading a book in the place in which it is set. Fadiman tackles more serious subjects, such as sexist language and the question of plagiarism, with the same gentle hand and practiced erudition as she uses to address the proper way to inscribe a book (on the flyleaf, unless you are the author) and the absolute worst way to organize a book collection (by size and color).
When I visit a new bookstore, I demand cleanliness, computer monitors, and rigorous alphabetization. When I visit a secondhand bookstore, I prefer indifferent housekeeping, sleeping cats, and sufficient organizational chaos to fuel my fantasies of stumbling on, say, a copy of Poe's Tamerlane, like the one a fisherman found under a stack of agricultural tracts in a New Hampshire antiques barn in 1988 and purchased for fifteen dollars. (151)
The daughter of two renowned authors whose personal library contained over seven thousand books, including 15 they had penned themselves, writing and a love of books is in Fadminan's blood. In her essay "My Ancestral Castles" she writes of playing with her father's books even before she could read, and the things that children learn about their parents by perusing their shelves. Her heartwarming accounts of sitting with her family editing a restaurant menu or forming their own imaginary college quiz bowl team named Fadiman U. prove that she is uniquely equipped to make observations about bookworms and their sustenance.
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader is sure to inspire passionate discussions and contentious arguments among Deltans everywhere. To help foster this conversation, there is a discussion forum dedicated to the Common Reader on the Sigma Tau Delta blog, www.WORDYbyNature.org. Members can brainstorm ideas for convention essays inspired by the book, essays which might be eligible for a Convention Common Reader Award. They can also collaborate with other members to create an Ex Libris-themed event that could win the Regents Common Reader Award, suggest a question for Anne Fadiman herself, or just debate with people who care as deeply as they do the merits of writing first drafts by hand versus on a computer. Whatever inspiration you take from the Common Reader, we hope you will help us to make it a truly "common" experience by sharing your thoughts with Deltans from around the world.
Anne Fadiman is the author of the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (1997) and two essay collections, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (1998) and At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays (2007). She was the founding editor of the Library of Congress magazine Civilization and has written for The New Yorker, Harper's, Life, and The New York Times, among other publications. She currently serves as Francis Writer in Residence at Yale University.