Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Favorite Read: HOW READING CHANGED MY LIFE by Anna Quindlen and EX LIBRIS by Anne Fadiman

I still have a bit of work to do if I'm successfully to go off tomorrow to my daughter's for an extended Christmas Holiday with family and friends - luckily I don't have far to go. (No airports, trains or buses involved.) Rocky is a bit suspicious about all the activity - ha! Last minute laundry and vacuuming and packing, but I wanted to talk about My Favorite Read (or Reads) today (I missed last week's post), so I've made the time.

Two books this week, shorties really - both quick reads but with much in them to think about: EX LIBRIS by Anne Fadiman (a book of short essays) and HOW READING CHANGED MY LIFE by Anna Quindlen.

Anne Fadiman is the daughter of famed editor and publisher Clifton Fadiman, the editor of The American Scholar. Recipient of a National Magazine Award for Reporting, she has written for Civilization, Harper's, Life, and the The New York Times, among other publications. She received the National Book Critics Circle Award for her book, THE SPIRIT CATCHES YOU AND YOU FALL DOWN, she has authored and/or edited several books of essays.

Anna Quindlen is the author of several bestselling novels, among them: Object Lessons, One True Thing, and Black and Blue, Every Last One. Her News York Times column, "Public and Private" won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. She is also the author of two children's' books, The Tree That Came to Stay and Happily Ever After.

HOW READING CHANGED MY LIFE and EX LIBRIS are book memoirs of the best sort; both these authors exude an enthusiasm and delight for reading - something inborn I suspect - and both have an affinity for the written word and how best to convey that love, the shared joy of reading as a natural extension of their lives. For those of us who share in this joy, there's not much about this we don't understand. It's a mutual love-fest.

Two other excellent things here: there's plenty of talk about favorite books, titles and authors galore. Both of these books and a spare afternoon would be a great way to pass the time, especially on one of those frigid January days we know are coming. But make sure to keep a pad and pencil near by to make notes for your TBR list. (Yes, pad and pencil is a euphemism.)

From: How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen:

...Of those of us who comprise the real clan of the book, who read not to judge the reading of others but to take the measure of ourselves. Of those of us who read because we love it more than anything, who feel about bookstores the way some people feel about jewelers.....we are what the world of books is really about. We are the people who once waited for the newest installment of Dickens's latest novel and who kept battered copies of CATCHER IN THE RYE in our back pockets and our backpacks. We are the ones who saw to it that PRIDE AND PREJUDICE never went out of print.

...It is not possible that the book is over. Too many people love it so...It is true that department stores no longer sell books, and that many of what pass for bookstores seem closer to gift shops, with far too many datebooks and trinkets. It's a little terrifying, the fact that in many of the mall stores there is an entire long wall classified as Fiction and a small narrow section to one side of it called Literature. That second, smaller, section is reserved largely for dead people, dead people who represent much of the best the world of words has had to offer over its long span.

But the ultimate truth is that they aren't dead, those people. The writers of books do not truly die; their characters, even the ones who throw themselves in front of trains or are killed in battle, come to life over and over again. Books are the means to immortality; Plato lives forever, as do Dickens, and Dr. Seuss, Soames Forsyte, Jo March, Scrooge, Anna Karenina, and Vronksy. Over and over again Heathcliff wanders the moor searching for his Cathy. Over and over again Ahab fights the whale. Through them all we experience other times, other places, other lives. We manage to become much more than our own selves. The only dead are those who grow sere and shriveled within, unable to step outside their own lives and into those of others. Ignorance is death. A closed mind is a catafalque.

(Anna Quindlan very kindly provides us with some handy 10 Best Lists at the back of her book.
Who doesn't love lists?)

From EX LIBRIS by Anne Fadiman:

A few months ago, my husband and I decided to mix our books together. We had known each other for ten years, lived together for six, been married for five. Our mismatched coffee mugs cohabited amicably; we wore each other's T-shirts and, in a pinch, socks; and our record collections had long ago miscegenated without incident.....But our libraries had remained separate, mine mostly at the north end of the of our loft, his at the south. We agreed that it made no sense for my Billy Budd to languish forty feet from his Moby-Dick, yet neither of us had lifted a finger to bring them together.

We had been married in this loft, in full view of our mutually quarantined Melvilles. Promising to love each other for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health - even promising to forsake all others - had been no problem, but it was a good thing the Book of Common Prayer didn't say anything about marrying our libraries and throwing out the duplicates. That would have been a far more solemn vow, one that would probably have caused the wedding to grind to a mortifying halt. We were both writers, and we both invested in our books the kind of emotion people reserve for their old love letters. Sharing a bed and a future was child's play compared to sharing my copy of THE COMPLETE POEMS OF W.B. YEATS from which I had once read "Under Ben Bulben" aloud while standing at Yeat's grave in the Drumcliff churchyard.....

Our reluctance to conjugate our Melvilles was also fueled by some essential differences in our characters. George is a lumper. I am a splitter. His books commingled democratically, united under the all-inclusive flag of Literature....Mine were balkanized by nationality and subject matter. Like most people with a high tolerance for clutter, George maintains a basic trust in three dimensional objects. If he wants something, he believes it will present itself, and therefore it usually does. I, on the other hand, believe that books, maps, scissors and Scotch tape dispensers are all unreliable vagrants, likely to take off for parts unknown unless strictly confined to quarters. My books, therefore, have always been rigidly regimented.

After five years of marriage and a child, George and I finally resolved that we were ready for the more profound intimacy of library consolidation.

I hope these two separate but equally delightful little memoirs will make for some pleasant reading, on any dreary and frigid winter day. If you're a really last-minute shopper, either/or both of these would make a great present for any reader in your life.


  1. I have read Quindlan before just not this one. I am making a note of both books. Today is the last day the library is open till the 28th or 29th so let me go check them out.

  2. Mystica: I hope you find them. They make perfect reading over the holidays. :)


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