Kindred Spirits

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Do you treasure ancient paperbacks, spines gone, pages browning, brittle and crumbling, held together (or not quite) with perished elastic bands, simply because you also treasure the memories they evoke as much by their physical appearance as by their contents?

Do you have to fight the urge to correct typos in library books and in menus, and wince over the ‘Palma’ ham that appears with such distressing frequency in the pages of The Spectator? Do you like to read Persuasion while standing in Milsom Street in Bath or on The Cobb at Lyme, and Wordsworth in the Lakes? Do you read aloud to your children, and do they often see you curled up with your nose in a book? If the answer to one or more of these questions is even a hesitant ‘Yes’, then you will find in Anne Fadiman a kindred spirit, and in the pages of Ex Libris you will recognize yourself. A writer and editor, married to a writer, Anne Fadiman grew up with books. At the age of 24 her father was ‘the entire proofreading department . . . at Simon & Schuster’; he made up stories for his children about a bookworm named Wally – a ‘wordworm’, really, who ‘savored such high-calorie morsels as ptarmigan – which tasted pterrible at first, until he threw away the p’ – and he allowed Anne, aged 4, to use his set of pocket-sized Trollope as building blocks.

Her mother, a Far East correspondent for Time in the Second World War, in her later years clipped typos from her local paper ‘with the intention of mailing them to the editor when they achieved a critical mass . . . There were 394. (What kind of person would count them? The daughter of the kind of person who would clip them, of course.)’ Small wonder, then, that these essays should so felicitously illuminate so many of the more idiosyncratic by ways and manifestations of that curious condition that is Being In Thrall To Books.

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