Ex Libris Review

// Ex (Me Out of This Essay Anthology) Pleabris // Author: Anne Fadiman // Rating: 2/5

ex libris faves

Synopsis: Anne Fadiman is–by her own admission–the sort of person who learned about sex from her father’s copy of Fanny Hill, whose husband buys her 19 pounds of dusty books for her birthday, and who once found herself poring over her roommate’s 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only written material in the apartment that she had not read at least twice.

This witty collection of essays recounts a lifelong love affair with books and language. For Fadiman, as for many passionate readers, the books she loves have become chapters in her own life story. Writing with remarkable grace, she revives the tradition of the well-crafted personal essay, moving easily from anecdotes about Coleridge and Orwell to tales of her own pathologically literary family. As someone who played at blocks with her father’s 22-volume set of Trollope (“My Ancestral Castles”) and who only really considered herself married when she and her husband had merged collections (“Marrying Libraries”), she is exquisitely well equipped to expand upon the art of inscriptions, the perverse pleasures of compulsive proof-reading, the allure of long words, and the satisfactions of reading out loud. There is even a foray into pure literary gluttony–Charles Lamb liked buttered muffin crumbs between the leaves, and Fadiman knows of more than one reader who literally consumes page corners. Perfectly balanced between humor and erudition, Ex Libris establishes Fadiman as one of our finest contemporary essayists.


First off, Anne and I have verrrrrrry different reading lists. Um, so yeah, I rarely enjoyed reading her stories about loving the stories she was reading (and hoarding and sorting and cherishing), which is disappointing because 1) a good friend recced this to me, 2) I love reading other people’s words gushing about the books they love and ranting about the books they hate, whether it’s a published book or online review, and 3) I just was not expecting the insufferable slog this book became.

So, behold, my initial thoughts/impressions of 12 of the essays from Ex Libris, pretty much unchanged and barely edited and mostly personally aesthetically formatted – take that Fadiman!

Marrying Libraries

“Some friends of theirs had rented their house for several months to an interior decorator. When they returned, they discovered that their entire library had been reorganized by color and size. Shortly thereafter, the decorator met with a fatal automobile accident. I confess that when this story was told, everyone around the dinner table concurred that justice had been served.”

When was this published? 1998? Hoo boy, NO ONE show Ms. Fadiman Bookstagram ABORT. ABORT.

The Joy of Sesquipedalians

Sesquipedalian // My fave long words = dodecahedron, cosmopolitan, phantasmagoria, flibbertigibbet – I feel like these are all words you would find in The Phantom Tollbooth, which will be a nice palette cleanser post-posting this review.

My Odd Shelf

I will never love the cold. Never ever. But somehow, in those brief moments I was reading Anne Fadiman’s ode to arctic regions and the many explorers that have died, survived, and dreamed there… Well, I felt a little something. But I was already in love with Shackleton’s expedition before Anne’s musings, SO.

Never Do That to a Book

All about the treatment of books – my philosophy, if it’s YOUR COPY do what you will. If it’s a personal copy lent to you or a public copy from the library, treat a book like a fragile little egg baby, or ya know, just don’t eat your Saltine-Anchovie-Poo-Cheeto-Jam sandwich over it.

True Womanhood

An essay all about a Victorian women’s advice manual and how laughable it is – Women are Servants! Sacrifice all for your God and your hubby and children!! Always be Dainty!!! And Fadiman is rightly appalled by the book, and obviously interested in its contents due to its family history (it was her greatgreatwhatevergran’s passed down all these years). But how ironic/presumptuous is her ending thought. Her daughter (an infant at the time) will inherit the book “the week her first child is born.” Okiedokes!! Can’t wait till you push out a baby, baby!

Words On a Flyleaf

I love inscriptions in books. History my dudes. I tend to buy copies of books more often when there’s a lovely or funny inscription that catches my eye. I’ve been waiting to buy The Two Towers and The Return of the King in hardcover because I’ve yet to find inscriptions in them. The inscription in my copy of The Fellowship of the Ring: To Adam Christmas, 2001 With love “<3” Mom.

I’m realizing with this essay that Fadiman’s attempts at humor literally sound a ba dum tish in my head. While recounting what her husband wrote in one of his books he gave to her: “I’ve never slept with the book, but I’ve slept with the author many times.” OHOHO Fadiman you slay me XD …. T_T

You Are There

This essay deals with physically being in the location where a story you are reading takes place or where the author wrote it (reading Thoreau at Walden, for example). And this essay really showed me how far removed from Fadiman’s life I am. She’s read “Yeats in Sligo, Isak Dinesen in Kenya, and John Muir in the Sierras.” I’ve, uh, read Go the F/// to Sleep in bed?? Oh! And I’ve been to Beverly Cleary’s school/neighborhood in Portland (although I didn’t read any of her books while I was there; I did read two Sharon Creech books, though, that were in my friend’s sister’s room, noice.) Fadiman took her daughter to tea at the Plaza Hotel and her daughter brought one of my fave picture books, Eloise, to read there, so I’m jealous of a four-year-old in the past, I guess? I’d want to be her age for that experience definitely. Everything is so pure as a kid.

Insert a Carrot

Here is where I really started to turn on Fadiman. I, too, notice grammar and punctuation issues, especially in published books. It’s irksome and it can be glaring. Am I an asshole about it, though? The Fadiman family has clearly never worked in food service or retail. THEY ARE RUDE. Fadiman makes some jokey paragraphs out of it – OHOHO you must think we’re sooooo obnoxious. You’re kind of awful, actually. Fadiman literally grabs an order form out of a baker’s hands to correct a “superfluous apostrophe” that the rest of her family would meltdown over. Her father makes notes on menus and returns them to the maître d’s as he leaves. And her father makes corrections IN LIBRARY BOOKS. That is a public copy, you dunce. Again, any attempts at humor she was going for on this topic fell flat and I just found myself unimpressed with their grammatical obsessiveness.

Eternal Ink

Woof, Fadiman rears an ugly Luddite head in this essay. I can imagine her scowling, without even realizing it probably, at all the twenty-somethings on their eReaders as she waits in line for her coffee. I love physical books and prefer them vastly over eBooks. I love writing longhand with a pen sometimes, because it forces me to slow down and sometimes helps my writer’s block. But I’m not about to spend seven pages lamenting the loss of the muse as technology trudges ever on and on and oh woe is the art of writing when blahblahblah. There’s just something about her tone! I can’t get over how it’s both trying too hard and massively falling short of anything striking, in my opinion.

The Literary Glutton

This essay happily made me think of some of my favorite literary feasts and foodie scenes // any Great Hall or Honeydukes scene from Harry PotterCloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, tea with the Mad Hatter, March Hare, and Dormouse in Alice in Wonderland; in film: The Hundred Foot Journey (not only is this the live action Ratatouille so delicious close-ups of food, but there are delicious close-ups of one of the most gorgeous men ever, Manish Dayal, and I finally understand people going nuts for long eyelashes on men because DANG PRETTY), El laberinto del fauno and Spirited Away (whoops, I’d be so cursed), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Beauty and the Beast enough said nomnomnom

My Ancestral Castles

“Their selves were on their shelves.” I LOVE THIS LINE THX GRRL but then it’s soured by at least her father, possibly her, considering science fiction “junk, relatively speaking.” F/// off 🙂

“Our mother, on the other hand, once led a life of action. And why had she stopped? Because she had had children.” Sigh

“It is my opinion that parental bookcases are an excellent place for teenagers and erotica to meet for the first time, especially if the works are of high literary quality (John Cleland, Frank Harris, and Anais Nin, let us say, rather than Xaviera Hollander.)” I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that Fadiman would look down on sex workers and their writing.

Sharing the Mayhem

This. Is. Good. Sh*t. More of this plz and thank. All about the joy of reading aloud, either alone or with those you trust and care about, and how it does enhance the experience. I’ve always liked reading to kids (it’s their first time feeling the story/words!!) and doing dramatic readings of terrible pieces. I also want to eavesdrop on my fave authors reading aloud their works to good friends & fam! I want a friend/lover to share stories aloud with and also not get far in the story with WOO! I don’t want to get married, but I love the idea of growing old with someone and the same shared stories!!!!! We agree on something, Mizz Fadiman!!


Phew, sips my Manhattan (actually a glass of some Trader Joe’s wine (although I do know how to make a mean Manhattan (and a mojito) (and I like them!) um where am I ahem excuse me close parentheses)). Glad that’s over with! That book has been sat on my shelf for agesssss and now I shall release it back into the wild of the library. (Actually, it was on hold for someone else. I hope they enjoy it more than I did!)


Have you been disappointed recently by a recommended read? Have you read an essay anthology that was good? What’s the best inscription you’ve read or received in a book?

**The bookplates at the top were some of my favorites I found with a cursory Internet search + ASOUE fabulousness (Sources: Robert Strong Woodword, Nerd Reactor, and Brett Helquist)

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