Ex Libris: Confessions of a Bibliobibuli by Anne Fadiman

This is my kind of memoir. Or non-fiction. Or essays. Collection of whatever it is we wish to call it. Vignettes.

I have to thank one of my favourite bloggers for bringing this beautiful slim volume of vignettes to my attention, literally.  And if you haven’t already been there, you must visit: Vishy The Knight, an impassioned bibliophile and meticulous reviewer of a wide range of books.

Ex LibrisAnne Fadiman has compiled this collection of eighteen essays written over a period of four years. She calls them confessions, I say they are a tribute to reading and to books. The subtitle to the book actually reads Confessions  of a Common Reader, but I think she might also be a bibliobibuli (those who read too much). One of the most preferable over indulgences I can think of.

I love that her first line is a reference to the Irish novelist John McGahern.  She shares an anecdote from his reading life that she relates to and that many of you, if you have ever been carried away with the reading of a book to the exclusion of all else, will recognise. From that first sketch we read on  continuing to delight in her bookish obsessions and hilarious family, with whom she has long shared the joy of sesquipedalians (big words).

Merging book collections with her husband only takes six years after moving in together and the difficult decisions that are required to be made as a result of deciding not to keep multiple copies and other dilemmas are hilarious and almost comforting to read.

Her attitude on how to treat a book starts off with a hilarious encounter between her brother and a hotel chambermaid  in Copenhagen, a woman who shared their passion for books but clearly sat in the opposite camp with regard to their treatment.

“To us, a book’s words were holy, but the paper, cloth, cardboard, glue, thread, and ink that contained them were a mere vessel, and it was no sacrilege to treat them as wantonly as desire and pragmatism dictated. Hard use was a sign not of disrespect but of intimacy.”

It is the smallest book ever to teach a reader so many new words and the perfect beginning of year read. A collection of entertaining, head-nodding, essays by a bibliophile. A must read for all!

Ex Libris

Sensual Delight

How differently do mental pleasures

Lead us from book to book to roam

And ever, with these ancient treasures,

How cheerful winter nights become!


A happy life grows warm in every limb;

And if a precious parchment you unroll,

Your senses in delight appear to swim

And heaven itself descends upon your soul.

J.W.Goethe (1749-1832)

27 thoughts on “Ex Libris: Confessions of a Bibliobibuli by Anne Fadiman

  1. Sounds very inviting. My copy of the Lost Domain arrived today – looking forward to re-re-ading it. (Not sure whether I ever read it in English, I think I only ever read the French.) Thank you for bringing it back to me – or me to it!


  2. Okay, Claire, not only have you added to my TBR tower(nothing new there), you have also increased my vocabulary exponentially!


    • Absolutely, I love that I have been introduced to it, it is such a comfort read! There are so many varieties of book obsessed and so many fabulous anecdotes, everyone could write at least one essay on their bookish habits I am sure!


  3. This looks delightful, Claire, and thank you for introducing me to a new word. I think I’ll start introducing myself as a bibliobibuli although I’m struggling a little with the concept of reading too much!


  4. I loved this review! (I’m reading it on a station platform on a grey day and it’s made me smile despite weather and train being late – so must be good!). The book sounds great – even from your post I’ve learned several big words so can imagine how the book will enhance my vocabulary! And the final thing for me was that reference to John McGahern – his Amongst Women one if my favourite books ever! I will look forward to this!


    • Fabulous, I have that one of John McGahern’s on the shelf, I’ve read The Barracks which is great and must read a few more.

      I am so pleased to have generated a smile on the face of another bibliophile with my sesquipedalians. Enjoy!


    • It certainly is and ironically that poem at the end I pulled out of another wonderful book about book, Gerald Donaldson’s Books which is full of all kinds of odd trivia about books going far back in time. Another timeless classic.


  5. I bought this many years ago from Heffers when I was at a conference in Cambridge. It says a lot for the book that I can remember the purchase so clearly. I could even walk to the shelf where it was stocked. Now, I take it off my own shelf about once a year just to spend some time in the company of another book lover.


    • I am sure there are many wonderful such stories about how this book fell into the hands of everyone here who has read it. How wonderful that each time you revisit it, you also get to revisit that memory of purchasing it. That could well be another chapter in the book. 🙂


  6. Sorry for the delay in commenting, Claire. I have not been online for a while because I have been distracted by life.

    I am very happy and glad that you liked ‘Ex Libris’ so much 🙂 I love that word ‘bibliobibuli’! That reference to John McGahern that you have mentioned – it made me go and get a book by him. I haven’t read it yet, but this is what Anne Fadiman’s book did to me – it introduced me to new, delightful authors and made me get their books. I also got Captain Scott’s journals and also ‘The Anatomy of Bibliomania’. ‘Never Do that to a Book’ is one of my favourite essays from the book. Favourite of the favourites, I have to say – because I loved all the essays. I loved that Goethe poem that you have quoted.

    Thanks for this beautiful review, Claire. Feeling so happy!


    • Perfect timing to visit and see all the wonderful comments Vishy, I hope they are enjoyable distractions and you are keeping up with your challenging read-along, I am fortunate mine isn’t a very long book and delightfully entertaining.

      I too am now reading a John McGahern, after Col’s comment I went and found my copy of Amongst Women which I picked up a few years ago in a charity shop, I think it is very much Irish literature, with a strong sense of place and family, just in a few pages read.

      I prove my bookish obsessions in my post today, where I finally succumb to analysing my reading and although it shouldn’t surprise me, it certainly reveals a few preferences! I hope you have time to visit and read it.

      Thank you again for Ex Libris, it is a real gem.


  7. Pingback: Top Reads 2014 | Word by Word

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