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Stifle that yawn!
on September 18, 2012
This little book has been sitting on my shelf for a while. I've dipped into it on a couple of occasions, always to put it down. I'm a great admirer of Anne Fadiman's "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down," so I couldn't quite figure out why "Ex Libris" did not hold my attention, even though some of the essays are delightful.
Since the third time is reputed to be a charm, I recently picked it up again, determined to read it through. I did, and I also discovered the reasons for my struggle to enjoy the book. The first is the repeated appearance of The Fadiman Family (father, mother, son, daughter Anne, and Anne's husband, an honorary Fadiman). In these essays, the Fadimans, certified bibliophiles, are like interesting dinner guests who stay on for a game of Trivial Pursuit and end up winning it all before the other guests have put a single slice in their own little trivia pies. No fun.
Perhaps the Fadimans overstay their welcome in "Ex Libris" because many of these essays were published separately in Civilization and later collected in this volume. Repetition is an all too common problem in essay collections.
There may be a solution. Leave the book on the nightstand. Pick it up every few months and open the book to a random spot---middle, end. Read from front to back. Try back to front. The author even has a number of useful observations on reading in bed.