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At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays Hardcover – June 12, 2007

4.6 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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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.

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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (June 12, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374106622
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374106621
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 6.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,303,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Goodness. Again - I must admit to the lowering realization that I am now one of "those" people: a fan. Only of Anne Fadiman but I am devoted.

At Large and at Small brought me to tears, had me laughing, had me rushing to the computer to order books from Amazon. But most of all - more apparent with this book than with her others - it had me learning!!

The breadth of Ms. Fadiman's knowledge is amazing. Although not the slightest bit interested in Arctic Exploration (Ms. Fadiman is a devotee) I learned so much from her essay about Vilhjalmur Stefansson. I now know more about butterflies than I ever thought possible (or desirable.) But the true learning came when Fadiman talks about the Romantic Authors - specifically Coleridge. Who knew? Not being overly impressed with Ancient Mariner or Kubla Khan, his actual life and the association with his peers, Lamb, Southey, Wordsworth, Hazlett, etc. rekindled my interest in that period. I will admit (Ms. Fadiman would sneer, no doubt) that my very slight introduction to these people came at the hands of Georgette Heyer. Now I know what "Those poor Lambs are just shattered at this time." really meant.

Fadiman's love affair with Lamb probably won't manifest in me but I will attempt to find biographies of him. I already bought (because of this book) Holme's 2 volume biography of Coleridge. (Amazon promises me it will be here next week.) I've never heard anyone talk about a biography in such glowing terms - the biography itself, not just its focal character.

Fadiman's essay on relocating was superb - just superb!

Her offering, "A Piece of Cotton", ties in the American Flag (its history - who knew?!) with 9/11. Such personal growth she displays with this one.
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