Monday, August 13, 2012

Ex Libris

Anne Fadiman

I have a new best friend - or BFF as she would be called today - Anne Fadiman. Actually we have been friends since 1998 when her book of personal essays Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader found its way into my hands. OK, so she doesn't know who I am, but by reading her essays on subjects as far reaching as North Pole exploration, the obsessive proofreading of menus, lost vocabulary, and inscriptions on a flyleaf, I have learned a great deal about her.

As part of my journey to reread books from my List of 10 (List of 10), I picked up Ms. Fadiman's book this morning and at once was comforted, amused, and informed by her thoughts. I especially liked her categorization of book lovers as carnal or courtly. Carnal book lovers write responses and comments in margins, underline passages, dog ear pages, have been known to use feathers as bookmarks and to start a collection of dead South American insects within the pages of a book.

I am not that person. I am a courtly book lover. As proof, to look at my copy of Ex Libris, you would not know that this is my third or fourth reading of it so pristine are the pages. I do notice a bit of fading of the dust-jacket's spine which causes me some distress. Anyway, as you can imagine, as a courtly book lover I always uses a bookmark, never fold the corners of a page, never underline, mark or in any way abuse A Book.

So this is where my BFF have a slight parting of the ways. On the one hand, she admonishes, "Just think what courtly book lovers miss by believing that the only thing they are permitted to do with  books is read them." But, she also admits that "the trouble to the carnal approach is that we love our books to pieces."

Literally, to pieces.

I can understand the idea of writing in books, making them your own, having a conversation with the author, but putting that idea into practice is just something I have never been able to bring myself to do. The most I might do is leave a faint pencil mark in the margin to highlight a passage. And then of course that gets erased once it has served its purpose.

I find it distracting to come across a carnal reader's comments in the margins of a second-hand book or even (god forbid!) a library book. Or underlined passages. 'What did that reader find so intriguing?' I begin to wonder and then lose sight of my own experience with the author.

So even though Ms. Fadiman and I don't agree on the carnal/courtly question, I still feel we will be best friends forever.

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