Book Review

Book Review: Ex Libris – Confessions of a Common Reader

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
By Anne Fadiman

My Edition:
Paperback, 162 pages
1998, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 0374527229

Ex Libris is a collection of essays by Anne Fadiman about her reading life – it details how she and her husband organize their books, how she handles her books, her literary family, her editing compulsions, the joys of reading aloud, and more.

I’m glad I picked up this little volume – I don’t read many books about books or reading (surprisingly) so this was something different for me.

Fadiman has a great sense of humor and an expansive vocabulary! It’s clear that books have saturated her life, starting with an early influence from her parents and continuing when she married another avid reader. I loved reading about the proof-reading habits of the Fadiman clan, as I can’t help but mentally correct little errors I find throughout my daily life (like in menus), though I imagine I’m not as astute as Anne. It was also interesting to read about her bookkeeping habits. Anne is a very different reader than I am – she is prone to making notes in her books, dog earing pages, leaving them around in piles. I don’t need my books to be pristine, but when they’re not being read, I prefer they sit on the shelves. I don’t ever write in my books or fold the pages. To me, that seems like ruining a book – to Anne (and even her husband), writing in a book is a sign of adoration and adds a personal touch.

I recommend this for any bookworm – or anyone who is a fan of essays with a literary focus. It’s quick enough that you can read in a day, and if you’re like Anne, be sure to mark up the pages with your thoughts, highlight your favorite quotes, and underline any new vocabulary words.


+ Vocabulary Alert + Bonus Round
This year I’ve been keeping better track of words I’ve never heard or never bothered to look up this year and Fadiman gave me an extensive list – probably the longest list I’ll have for one book all year. Note: this list does not include Anne’s own list of unrecognized words because they’re very old and of course I didn’t know any of them and honestly I was tired of writing out so many words and definitions. To find out hers, you’ll have to read the book!
miscegenation – a mixture of races, marriage, etc
balkanize – divide, compartmentalize
nascent – recently formed or developed
vermicule – a small, wormlike structure
lexicography – editing or making of a dictionary
elegiac – having a mournful quality; a poetic couplet
serac – a pinnacle, sharp ridge or block of ice among the crevasses of a glacier
parsimonious – very unwilling to spend money
antipodal – opposite
afflatus – a divine imparting of knowledge or power
prosody – the rhythm and pattern of poetry and language
trenchant – very strong, clear, effective
nihilism – the belief that traditional morals, ideas, beliefs, etc. have no worth or value
extant – still existing, not destroyed or lost
oeuvre – all the works a writer, composer or artist has created
soi-disant – self-styled
lapidary – a cutter, polisher or engraver of precious stones, usually other than diamonds
areligious – unconcerned with or indifferent to religion
bibliolatrous – being overly devoted to books
alluvium – clay, sand, gravel or similar material deposited by running water
fascicle – one of the divisions of a book published in parts
spurious – not genuine, sincere or authentic
verisimilitude – the quality of seeming real
parity – the quality or state of being equal
eland – large African antelope with short, twisted horns
lissome – slim and graceful
captious – marked by an inclination to stress faults and raise objections; calculated to confuse or entrap in an argument
carping – inclined to querulous and perverse criticism
pettifogging – quibbling over trifles
perspicacious – having an ability to notice and understand things that are difficult or not obvious
ferrule – usually a metal ring or cap placed around a wooden stick to strengthen it
concatenate – linked together
turpitude – evil quality or behavior
apercu – a brief survey or sketch
kerf – a slit or notch made by a saw
legatee – someone who receives money or property from a person who has died
ectomorph – one with a lean, slender build and slight muscular development
declivitous – moderately steep

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