Daily Archives: January 5, 2010

‘Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader’ by Anne Fadiman

1998, 125p.

My husband gave me this book.  He bought it second-hand for $1.99 at an op-shop  and inscribed it.  None of this may seem significant, but after reading this small delightful morsel of a book you’ll realize that it is.  The book is a compilation of  “The Common Reader” columns that over a number of years Anne Fadiman contributed to Civilization magazine, the journal of the Library of Congress.  Hence, the chapters are short (4 or 5 pages) , snappy and personal and you come to feel that you are in the company of a good friend who shares your love of reading.  The book as object is itself a thing of beauty- very small, with a tasteful crimson and gold cover with what looks like a gold-embossed bookplate on the front.

Its opening chapter concerns the merging of book collections of two avid readers and immediately this struck home.  Mr R.J. and I have quite distinct collections aided by the rather unconventional design of our living arrangements- we live in two separate but joined units with our own separate lounge rooms, kitchens, bedrooms etc.  I suppose that at some stage we will actually live in the same house- but what to do with the books?

Mind you, he has FAR more than I do.  He is the most appalling library patron, accumulating fines with gay abandon.  He reads more voraciously than I do, and is happy to have his reading diet determined by what he finds in op-shops, garage sales and fetes. He is equally reluctant to relinquish them.   He ALWAYS finds good books amongst towering piles in second-hand bookshops, even though I might have looked at the same pile just two minutes earlier.

And yes, they are doubled-up on the shelves.

My collection is much more modest, and particularly in the relatively new shelves in the study (which is itself a new incarnation of my son’s bedroom now that he’s moved out of home), there’s PLENTY of space to buy more!  I’m more a library-gal myself and I make good use of the “place hold” function on the library catalogue to borrow books that I see in bookshops selling new.  However, I’ve become increasingly aware of the ephemerality of book availability nowadays with books often restricted to the initial edition and shunted off the shelves for the next new thing, so I tend to buy more non-fiction than I used to.  The fiction shelves in the lounge room (a particularly crowded loungeroom at the moment because it has to also accommodate my precariously-balanced Christmas tree) are doubled up, but at the moment the non-fiction shelves in the study are single-row only and share the space with scanners, printer paper,  recipe books and unopened issues of ABR and The Monthly.

But how to merge our collections?  It’s quite clear that there’s not room for both Mr R.J.’s books  and my own.  Anne Fadiman and her husband George, who shares her love of books, have had to face this problem.  It took them about a week to sort out the duplicates, then face the trauma of deciding ‘yours or mine’?  Hardbacks prevailed over paperbacks, unless the paperbacks contained marginalia.  The task completed, they kissed, and felt that they were now TRULY married.  I shall take another tack.   For me, I turn my eyes to our rumpus room, which was formerly a double garage that joins the two units and which we’ll keep if and when we “move in together” at a combined age of well over a century!  Yes, there’s scope for books here, with a gas-fired fake fire, winter sun, a  whole wall of shelf space and two under-utilised bookshelves there already.  I’m thinking -“hmmm, compactus!”

(Actually, looking at these photos about to be launched into the blogosphere,  I’m a little embarrassed by my furniture.  Our house is frozen in 1980s decor- no polished boards and downlights for us! I tell myself that our furniture will soon be ‘vintage’ and that people will murmur in appreciation, rather than disapprobation at its 1980s authenticity.)

Enough about me- back to Anne Fadiman and her books.  And really, that’s what this book is about: the importance of books to a book-lover’s lifestyle, environment and identity even.  It’s a lovesong to the act of reading, and you find yourself smiling, with a mixture of recognition and confession, at a kindred-spirit.  It’s all here- the lure of the second-hand book; the conversation of the annotation; the treasure-hunt of the footnote; the pedantry of apostrophes and spelling errors.  This is a delightful book- in fact, I eked it out over about a fortnight, a chapter a night,  not wanting to relinquish a conversation with a book-loving friend who knows me so well!