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At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays Paperback – May 27, 2008


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At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays + Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader + Rereadings: Seventeen writers revisit books they love
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (May 27, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374531315
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374531317
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Fadiman, a National Book Critics Circle Award winner for The Spirit Catches You and You Fall, makes a bold claim: "I believe the survival of the familiar essay is worth fighting for." The "familiar essays" that Fadiman champions and writes are in the mold of the early 19th century, rather than critical or personal works as we've come to know them. Her essays combine a personal perspective with a far-reaching curiosity about the world, resulting in pieces that are neither so objective the reader can't see the writer behind them nor too self-absorbed. And spending some time with Fadiman is a pure delight. She loves the natural world and taxonomies of all kinds, as well as ice cream and coffee. Her love of the romantic age goes beyond the stylistic, and she prefers Coleridge and Lamb over Wordsworth and Southey. The collection rolls good-naturedly through its subjects until the final piece—an account of a whitewater rafting trip that went tragically awry, a harrowing reminder of the stakes on which all endeavors rest. This collection is a perfectly faceted little gem. Essayists, of both the critical and personal sort, could do worse than to follow Fadiman into the realm of the familiar. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Fadiman begins her second essay collection by quoting her father, the waggish intellectual of page, radio, and television Clifton Fadiman, lamenting the impending demise of the "familiar essay." Decades later, Anne is happy to report that the essay has survived, even if the familiar essay is now less, well, familiar than the critical or personal essay. A familiar essay is a confiding, inquiring, and witty reflection on a passionately considered subject. This intimate form was perfected by Charles Lamb, a writer Anne adores. With Lamb and her father serving as muses, Fadiman writes funny and keen essays that seemingly without effort mesh the personal with the literary and historical to surprising and edifying ends. Fadiman finds lessons for living in the contemplation of ice cream and coffee, the adventures of an Arctic explorer, and the collecting of butterflies. A master of the tangential, a close observer, and a lover of language, Fadiman is blithely brilliant in her pursuit of beauty and meaning as she wrestles with questions of life, death, and rebirth. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Anne Fadiman is the Francis Writer-in-Residence at Yale. Her first book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, is an account of the unbridgeable gulf between a family of Hmong refugees and their American doctors. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, among other awards. Fadiman is also the author of two essay collections. The London Observer called Ex Libris "witty, enchanting, and supremely well-written." NPR said of At Large and At Small, "Fadiman is utterly delightful, witty and curious, and she's such a stellar writer that if she wrote about pencil shavings, you'd read it aloud to all your friends."

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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See all 24 customer reviews
I read books, great and small, for pleasure.
Alan Naftalin
An astute reader will revel at the word choice and sentence structure, crafted with the painstaking detail of an artist with great felicity with English.
Justin Mclaughlin
The essays are informative, entertaining, poignant, and sometimes funny.
Debra Purdy Kong

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Alan Naftalin on June 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Anne Fadiman in one of her essays says that a key question in the culture wars is: "Should we read great books because of their literary value or because they . . . teach us how to live?" I am not much interested in the culture wars. I read books, great and small, for pleasure. I do not remember when I have read a book with greater pleasure than this small, beautifully written, book of essays. The subjects range from butterfly collecting to ice cream to Coleridge to flying the flag after 9/11 to unexpected death. The author reveals herself as learned, loving and at times very funny. Give yourself a treat. Read this book.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Miss Tea on November 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Really, it will. In this collection of essays (available separately in other venues, but nestled together with great mutual congeniality in this book), Fadiman begins with her own confessed interests and obsessions--Charles Lamb and Coleridge, ice cream and coffee, arctic exploration and mail delivery, mounting butterflies and flying the flag--and traces a patient, curious path through all sorts of trackless wildernesses (ancient literature, Romantic poetry, familiar essays and out-of-print tomes) to piece together observations that are quietly illuminating not just of the subject matter but the ways Fadiman--quietly, subtly--suggests that books are to read, loves are to be cherished, life is to be lived. The clarity and precision of her prose are breath-taking; readers would never guess that Fadiman's process could entail, as she reveals in one essay, moving paragraphs about in the manner that a pet hamster transports food from one side of his cage to the other. Surprising, rewarding, and deeply interesting, this book is a necessary addition not just to your library but your experience, as it will make you want to read more widely, look more closely, and think more deeply about things, just as Fadiman does.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A. Fine on July 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Anne Fadiman's prose is as good as it gets, even if the subjects of her essays are not always as interesting to the rest of us as they are to her. Never afraid to use a large word when a diminutive one might do, an occasional trip to the dictionary may be necessary. But the trip is always informative, and my brain was grateful for the exercise.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By David M. Giltinan on January 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Over the last several years, I must have given close to a dozen copies of Anne Fadiman's previous essay collection, "Ex Libris", to various friends. It's the kind of book you just have to share with others. It didn't seem possible that another collection could match the perfection of the first, but this one comes pretty close.

Essays in the first collection focused on topics related to books and reading; the author's lifelong passion for reading shone through on every page and should resonate with any reader sharing her addiction to books. In this new collection, Fadiman demonstrates an ability to write engagingly on a wide variety of topics. Coffee, ice-cream, moving, the life of Coleridge, the essays of Charles Lamb - Fadiman expounds charmingly on these topics, and several others, making it seem easy. Like Malcolm Gladwell, she can make any topic she writes about fascinating.

Of course, writing essays so polished they sparkle like gems is anything but easy. It is a testament to Fadiman's skill as a writer that she makes it seem effortless.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Justin Mclaughlin on December 22, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book makes one thing abundantly clear: Ann Fadiman is a great essay writer. Each of these essays does everything good essays should. (1) They are concise. None of them takes longer than a half hour to read. (2) The language is crafted expertly. An astute reader will revel at the word choice and sentence structure, crafted with the painstaking detail of an artist with great felicity with English. (3) The author loves her subject matter. Although coffee and Coleridge and bug collecting may not seem to have much in common, Ms Fadiman infuses them with passion and curiosity and makes them her own. (4) Personality. In short, Ann Fadiman writes powerful, purposeful prose, adorned with wit, humor and pathos. I highly recommend this collection. Fadiman is a writer's writer.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By MW on August 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I did the dance of joy (literally) when I walked into Longfellow Books and found a new book by Anne Fadiman. Her prose is so good I want to EAT it. EX LIBRIS is a perennial fave, and now here is another dose of her wit and intelligence and interest in life and living. Her take on everything from the essayist Charles Lamb to her nutty brother's method for making ice cream with liquid nitrogen(possible side effect is frostbite of the throat)will leave you feeling engaged and smart and grateful. Thank you, Anne Fadiman. Please write faster. -- Monica Wood
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Suzanne L. Harris on October 2, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ann Fadiman writes beautifully and brings us into her personal world with warmth. I savored each essay, reading just one a day to make them last. Suzanne Love Harris, Wilson, Wyoming
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Bryan Byrd on June 17, 2013
Format: Paperback
Ann Fadiman's tenure as editor of THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR marked a high point for that magazine that I've felt it hasn't been able to match since she left. So it was with particular interest I looked forward to her own collection of essays - not really knowing what to expect, but excited just the same.

These essays are what the author terms 'familiar essays', which, in her definition, are similar to sitting by the fireside listening to the personal reminiscences of someone highly familiar with her subject, yet who is prone to inserting small bits of humor and self-deprecation into the conversation. And that is what we get in AT LARGE AND AT SMALL - the reminiscences of an intelligent woman on a variety of subjects, from the serious to the not-so-much. Smart, often clever, these are the reflections of a writer whose struggles have been more literary and lepidopterological rather than working class.

A few of these essays seem dated - the resistance toward email and new technology sounds a bit precious to me - but otherwise the bulk of the works here are not restricted to any time or place. Subjects range from coffee and ice cream and butterflies to Charles Lamb, S.T. Coleridge and Vilhjalmur Stefanson. Only one essay falls entirely flat - A PIECE OF COTTON - in which Ms. Fadiman reflects on the personal meaning of the American Flag after 9/11, and which smacks of self-important twaddle to me.

Conducive to beach reading, hammock reading, or any other place one might wish to be pleasantly diverted. Three stars.
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