“‘Alas,’ wrote Henry Beecher Ward, ‘Where is human nature so weak as in the book store?'” Where indeed? (Unless it is while browsing on Amazon, finger hovering over ‘Buy with One Click’?) This, from an essay on second-hand book shops, is just one gem from Anne Fadiman’s delightful little book, EX LIBRIS: CONFESSIONS OF A COMMON READER.
This book, given to me by my brother, is right up my street. It is a collection of the columns that Fadiman wrote for the magazine of the Library of Congression. She married another bibliophile so that books play a big part in their marriage. I especially enjoyed ‘Marrying Libraries’ because some of the debates were all too familiar. My husband and I married libraries, too, and as my husband still had his first wife’s books (she had died a few years before I met him), and she had inherited her parents’ books, we found we had an awful lot of duplicates – or even triplicates in the case of novels by E. M. Forster, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf. Which ones to keep and where to put them all?
Fadiman’s range is wide: plagiarism, unfortunate dedications, mail order catalogues, ink. And there are some wonderful anecdotes here. Haven’t we all at some time thought of something we want to make a note of, when no pen is handy? This happened to Sir Walter Scott while he was out hunting: ‘a sentence he had been trying to compose all morning leapt into his head. Before it could fade, he shot a crow, plucked a feather, sharpened the tip, dipped it in the crow’s blood, and captured the sentence.’ That is true dedication to the writing life.
PS. If you’d like to read my hitherto unpublished ghost story, ‘A Trick of the Light,’ go to www.corridorsmagazine.org where you can read it and a whole lot more for free.
PPS. While I am blowing my own trumpet, my short story, ‘Vanishing Act’ has just been published in the March/April issue of ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE. It’s set in a hospice and was inspired by the wonderful care that my mother had in St Catherine’s Hospice in Scarborough. I am sure she would have approved.