I think a more apt title for this book would be Confessions of a Compulsive Reader or Confessions of a Constant Reader.
It is a series of essays written by a writer about reading. Say that ten times fast. I found them humorous and the writing style engaging.
The writer grew up in a home of readers and writers. Her parents were both published writers. They had thousands of books, thousands. Her essays are both touching and informative. That really doesn’t sound right. Who wants to read informative in the summer? I’m sure Ms. Fadiman could come up with a better description.
One essay I found particularly interesting was about a book her mother had handed down to her written in 1877 by a “Father” – presumably unmarried – entitled The Mirror of True Womanhood. After reading this book, she came up with a ten point scale and asked her husband to rate her. Just for fun, I did the same. Here’s how I stacked up (Glory! He’s going to be irritated I shared this):
Discretion – 10
Discipline – 9
Religious Fervor – 7 (that’s better than the author, she scored a zero)
Power to soothe and charm – 7
Truthfulness – 10
Thrift – 7
Avoidance of impure literature, engravings, paintings, and statuary – 10
Kindness – 10
Cheerfulness – 6 (ouch!)
Order in the Home – 7 (he likes sevens)
Abjuration of fashion – 6
Self-control – 7
Excellence in needlework – 11
Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman is not a hard read. You can read an essay and put it down, all splayed open if you’d like (you’ll have to read it to understand that reference) and pick it up later when you have another few free minutes.
A quote on the front reads, “A terrifically entertaining collection of personal essays about books…Heartening, tender, wise and hilarious”. This oversells it, in my opinion. It is entertaining and has tender moments when she talks about her dad and his loss of sight. But wise and hilarious? Not exactly. I did chuckle as I read through the essays, but “hilarious” suggests peeing my pants funny and it’s just not.
Worth a look if you come across it in a library, but not a book I would tell you to spend money on…unless you were a writer yourself and would find the essays pee your pants funny.