Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

★★★★★ (5/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • “Wake” is just the right verb, because 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
  • Our English collection spanned six centuries, and to shelve it chronologically would allow us to watch the broad sweep of literature unfold before our very eyes. The Victorians belonged together; separating them would be like breaking up a family. Besides, Susan Sontag arranged her books chronologically. She had told The New York Times that it would set her teeth on edge to put Pynchon next to Plato
  • use an electronics analogy, closing a book on a bookmark is like pressing the Stop button, whereas when you leave the book facedown, you’ve only pressed Pause
  • Courtly lovers always remove their bookmarks when the assignation is over; carnal lovers are likely to leave romantic mementos, often three-dimensional and messy
  • a book and its inscription are permanently wedded. This can be either a boon or a blot
  • “What a blessing it is to love books as I love them,” he wrote to a friend, “to be able to converse with the dead, and to live amidst the unreal!”
  • There is one thing the essayist cannot do—he cannot indulge himself in deceit or concealment, for he will be found out in no time
  • The proofreading temperament is part of a larger syndrome with several interrelated symptoms, one of which is the spotting mania
  • Proofreaders tend to be good at distinguishing the anomalous figure—the rare butterfly, the precious seashell—from the ordinary ground, but, unlike collectors, we wish to discard rather than hoard
  • I admit the possibility, however, that typewriters, especially ancient manuals, can inspire in their owners the kind of fierce monogamy my pen inspired in me.
  • The writers, no longer slowed by having to change their typewriter ribbons, fill their fountain pens, or sharpen their quills, tend to be prolix
  • I can think of few better ways to introduce a child to books than to let her stack them, upend them, rearrange them, and get her fingerprints all over them
  • parents complain that their children don’t read for pleasure. When I visit their homes, the children’s rooms are crammed with expensive books, but the parents’ rooms are empty. Those children do not see their parents reading
  • When you read silently, only the writer performs. When you read aloud, the performance is collaborative. One partner provides the words, the other the rhythm
  • The edges were unopened. As I slit them with an unpracticed fingernail, I was overcome with melancholy. These beautiful volumes had been published in 1897, and not a single person had read them. I had the urge to lend them to as many friends as possible in order to make up for all the caresses they had missed during their first century
  • “Alas,” wrote Henry Ward Beecher. “Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore!” Mine is relatively strong at Barnes & Noble, because I know that if I resist a volume on one visit, and someone else buys it, an identical volume will pop up in its place like a plastic duck in a shooting gallery. And if I resist that one, there will be another day, another duck. In a secondhand bookstore, each volume is one-of-a-kind, neither replaceable from a publisher’s warehouse nor visually identical to its original siblings, which have accreted individuality with every change of ownership. If I don’t buy the book now, I may never have another chance


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