The author Anne Fadiman considers herself a common reader. Who is a common reader ? In her words,
The common reader differs from the critic and the scholar. She is worse educated, and nature has not gifted her so generously. She reads for her own pleasures rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinion of others. Above all, she is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends she can come by , some kind of whole.
Anne Fadiman is a faculty at Yale and her love of books has probably made her write 18 essays on books, over a period of 4 years. So, this is a book about books. The title of the book, Ex Libris is a Latin phrase, meaning , “from the books”. It is often used to indicate ownership of a book, as in “from the books of …" or “from the library of …”. Anne Fadiman hails from a literary family, her parents being authors and popular literary personalities. So, it comes as no surprise that she was surrounded by books right from childhood. In one sense she is not a common reader by any standard!.
In one of the essays she says that despite being married for 5 years , her books and her husband’s books were always in separate shelves. Both shelves sported independent identities. Only when she finally manages to mix her books with her husband’s, categorize them and arrange the two book shelves together, does she consider the true consummation of her marriage!
In another of her essays she gives a funny account of their entire family being obsessed with words, new words, old words, words used in different contexts.When the author mentions about her family talking about etymology of words as their dinner conversation, a reader can imagine the kind of family environment the she grew up. The family is so obsessed about the language that the first thing that they do when they pick up a menu card at a dinner in any restaurant is to correct the grammatical errors in it. About correcting sentence structures, there are far more odd things mentioned about her father that amuses any reader.
She devotes one essay on her book shelf, one on inscriptions on used books, one on ink ,one on her dad’s bookshelf etc. None of the essays are boring at all because there is a ton of wit and sarcasm all through out. One of the essays talks about two different kinds of book lovers. Courtly lovers and Carnal lovers. Courtly lovers are those who never put the book face down, remove the bookmarks after they read, never write on margins , leave the book as it was before the read and make the book look virginish. Carnal book lovers are those who write incessantly on margins, who inscribe on fly leafs, write their feelings all over the book, even tear a part of the book for easy reading. The author considers herself a Carnal book lover as she is of the opinion that hard use is not a sign of disrespect but a sign of intimacy! Surely you would across people who belong to either of the categories.Some people welcome comments on second hands /borrowed/lent books. Some people fume when they see their book devirginized by others. Its funny though, that the author has used such strong words to emphasize the difference!
The author mentions in one of her essays that she even reads telephone directories and goes over each of the items from mail order catalogues! . Her husband regularly trashes some of her mail order catalogues so that she can meet her writing deadlines!..This is really a crazy reading obsession. Be that as it may, like this book that is charmingly witty and deserves a mighty compliment, her accomplishments are praiseworthy too!.