It figures that it would take a book about books — a book celebrating [hysterical] book love, to boot — to pull me up from the reading [and blogging] slump lately. So, thank you, Anne Fadiman, for your book Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader. [Although that small nugget of doubt in my head is demanding, How dare I proceed to write clumsily about a book I loved, which happens to write very beautifully about book love? Ah, life’s little headaches.]
I won the book from Simon a while back, and it was awesome because I’ve always wanted to read it — I’ve heard nothing but good things about Fadiman, and, really, it was only a matter of time before I got my greedy hands on her. And so, Simon, I’ve said it many times, but it bears repeating: Thank you so much.
So. In twelve short essays, Fadiman writes about a life spent loving books — from growing up with an awesome family and a library, to charting a romance and a marriage with books, to reading a Victorian self-help book about womanhood while, er, gestating. She enumerates the many facets of book love — agonizing over inscriptions, the ways to love/molest a book, particular methods of shelving, and certain monstrosities such as tearing the flyleaf.
Little quirks and obsessions, a fanaticism here and there — it was fascinating. And so constant, the plain ol’ love and passion for the written word. At its most familiar and comforting and, pardon the drama, immortal form: For her, the heart of reading lies in “how we maintain our connections with our old books, the ones we have lived with for years, the ones whose textures and colors and smells have become as familiar to us as our children’s skin.” [I, for one, am looking at you, Jane Eyre.]
I’ve always been nosy about people’s attitudes re books. Why, yes, I totally judge you based on your reading list, haha. Aherm. When visiting other people’s houses, I’ll always find an excuse to saunter over to bookshelves. When visiting good friends, most times I don’t even engage in small talk — straight to the books I go, and usually with the agenda of taking some home with me.
Fascinating habits: I have a friend who won’t buy a book bigger than his Moleskine [that’s not a euphemism]; there’s this girl who covers her books with plastic whenever she’s got teh sadz; my boss used to keep all his books in plastic bags; a schoolmate halved a Harry Potter book because her baby sister couldn’t wait for her to finish.
The madness goes on and on. [You’ve all been witness to my own oddities, and those of the people I love most — I have a nervous breakdown when a spine is creased; a book I gave my boyfriend two months ago has lost the image on its spine due to constant handling and dumping oh-so-carelessly into bags and backseats and pockets and gah. Ahem.]
And one of the most giddy-fying aspects of the book blogging community is being in the virtual company of so many book dorks. I’ve got the opportunity to be a complete bibliophilic-creeper to all of you out there. I have offended people when I proclaim that I mean marginalia literally most of the time — I know some of you won’t even write your names on the book. I have seen a multitude of shelving diskarte, and collections galore. One of you has a bookshelf dedicated to foliage or something, I am sure. The madness, again, goes on and on.
It’s this voyeuristic aspect — and the given Sasha loves book for realsies — is a large reason why I enjoyed Fadiman’s book so much. Yes, her essays are a joy to read [and not just because of her clear prose, her wit, her gosh-darned charm, her willingness to sacrifice the self-esteem of her loved ones to prove a point] — but it’s more of me being certain that someone out there is as passionate as books as I am [more so in some aspects].
It’s holding this compact red book in my hand and feeling understood, even vindicated. It’s like meeting someone you know you’d be awesome friends with — never mind that, for the life of you, you can’t understand why she’d bring a book to the bathtub with her, although you can commiserate re the chronological shelving of Shakespeare’s plays.
Being privy to Fadiman’s kind of book love takes on a meta-edge to my own book love, to this very blog, to the fact that I’m talking about it here — but, well, you know: You can never have enough book love. And, unfortunately for my future paychecks, I don’t think I can ever have enough Fadiman. [You know what to get me for Christmas.]