{Review} If I Stay by Gayle Forman

June 18, 2014 Review 2 ★★★

{Review} If I Stay by Gayle FormanIf I Stay by Gayle Forman
Published by Dutton Juvenile on April 2, 2009
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 201
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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Choices. Seventeen-year-old Mia is faced with some tough ones: Stay true to her first love - music - even if it means losing her boyfriend and leaving her family and friends behind?

Then one February morning Mia goes for a drive with her family, and in an instant, everything changes. Suddenly, all the choices are gone, except one. And it's the only one that matters.

If I Stay is a heartachingly beautiful book about the power of love, the true meaning of family, and the choices we all make.

I feel like just about everyone under the sun has read this book already, and it’s been on my radar for a while now. With the movie coming out this summer, I knew I really wanted to finally get to this book before seeing the movie. I think the premise is interesting, but to be honest, I’m not sure it’s a book I would have ever picked up without the recommendations of fellow bloggers and/or the catalyst of the movie. While I think the cover is cute, it’s not attention-grabbing for me, and the jacket copy doesn’t pull me in.

First of all, I have to say that I did really enjoy this book. BUT, it did not live up to expectations for me. The way some people have talked about it, it seemed like this would be a life-changing read or something. While reading the book I was really into it and read it in one sitting. But I wasn’t blown away by the writing or the characters or the setting or the plot or really any aspect of the novel. I think more than anything else, I just really wanted to know what choice she would make. Ultimately there were a few things that really bothered me about this book:

1. The perspective felt too narrow.
I think because the story is about such an isolated incident and is told entirely from Mia’s point of view, the perspective feels extremely limited. I just found it frustrating to be so limited to Mia’s thoughts when so many of the other characters were interesting too. I also found it really difficult to understand other characters. Mia describes her relationships – with her mom, her dad, her brother, her grandparents, her best friend, her boyfriend Adam – but it all feels very one-sided. At times it was hard to imagine how some of these relationships formed.

2. The flashbacks just made me more interested in the story of Mia’s life pre-accident.
I also wanted so much more information about Mia’s life before the accident takes place. I know there is a sequel of sorts but I really think If I Stay would have been so much better if it incorporated more. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with my previous point, but I just feel like I only knew enough information about Mia and her life to realize how much I didn’t know. It’s kind of irritating when the plot of a book only makes you want to know a related but untold plot.

3. There wasn’t a whole lot to the story.
Basically the entire plot revolves around Mia’s accident and the immediate fall-out from that. There are flashbacks to Mia’s life before the accident, but they are told as random memories, not as a continuous secondary plot line. When I finished the book, it felt like not a whole lot had happened, and the telling of the book’s few events wasn’t particularly profound for me, either.

There were a couple things I did really love about the book, one being the music. Adam is in a rock band and Mia is a classical musician (she plays the cello). I love classical music, and especially the cello, and it’s not often a subject that’s frequently portrayed in young adult books. It was really interesting to see the conflicts as well as the parallels between Mia and Adam, particularly in terms of their approaches to music. I like that on the surface, classical and rock music seem so different, but at the heart of it all music is music, and this common ground is what initially draws Mia and Adam together.

The message was also one of my favourite parts of the book. If I Stay really focuses on the power of love; Mia’s hindsight is a catalyst for her to examine her relationships with loved ones. She spends most of the book reflecting on what it means to love, and her ultimate choice is essentially influenced by the conclusions she has drawn about love. That all sounds a little mushy but it is really a lovely consideration of familial, romantic, and platonic love.

Overall, If I Stay was a good book and I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t good enough to convince me to pick up number two, Where She Went, right away. The premise was really interesting – and while the synopsis is vague, I believe this book is best read with a limited knowledge of what it’s about. Forman is a fantastic writer, but I wish she had incorporated more into the story to make it more well-rounded.

3 Stars

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Blogging BFFs Quiz

June 6, 2014 Personal 6

Recently Books With Cass shared a BloggingBFFs quiz, and we thought it would be such a fun post to do! This way we get to see how much we truly know about each other, and you all get to learn a little more about us in the process! It totally took us back to elementary and high school with those quizzes in the back of Cosmo Girl! and Seventeen magazine, like OMG!

1. How did you start talking?

Rachelia small avatar
Rachelia: I sent her an email after I found her blog and noticed we had a lot in common!

She is exactly right – and I’ll add, I am always so grateful that she took the initiative to email me. Let that be a message to any shy blog readers!

Katy small avatar
Kaitlyn: I had a personal blog that I started in September 2010 and one day (I think that spring?) Rachelia emailed me saying how much we have in common. We basically became fast friends immediately, and have been email pen pals ever since.

Yep, I think our friendversary is in May? *checks e-mails* May 30, 2011! I also remember this almost vividly because of the story you wrote on your blog how you went for a walk that night with your Mom and read the e-mail to her! 

2. How many pets do they have? Name them!

Rachelia small avatar


 Rachelia: OK, Katy has one dog and her name is…. damn, I think it starts with a K as well? Kiera? Now I’m second guessing  myself and thinking I made that up, haha!

Close… it’s Casey. I’ll point out too that just before I revealed Casey’s name in a gchat, Rachelia guessed it correctly!

Katy small avatar
Kaitlyn: Two pugs… Bella and Buddy. I think!

Ding-ding-ding! Correct! 

3. What is their favorite hobby other than reading?

Rachelia small avatar
Rachelia: Listening to music, running?

She’s nailed it again… I’m not really a person who does a lot of hobbies but I would probably add sailing and skiing too, I guess.

Katy small avatar
Kaitlyn: That is hard… I can’t think of an activity, per se, but Rachelia is always caught up on the news and always has something to say about politics and social issues, particularly relating to feminism. I guess in a way I would consider her passion for social education a bit of a hobby. :)

Wow, OK I honestly didn’t know what Katy would write because I myself never really know what to put. Really touched that she picked up on all the stuff I post on social media (and yammer on to her about on occasion, haha!)

4. Favorite place to eat? Or favorite food.

Rachelia small avatar


 Rachelia: Favourite snack food at least I think is Pringle chips. Also loves ice cream (mint chocolate chip?)

Haha YES – I am a chip connoisseur, so I’d add Cool Ranch or Nacho Cheese Doritos, and Lays Cheddar & Onion… it really depends on the mood. ;) I love ice cream in the summer and mint chocolate chip is my favourite when I’m not going for a classic vanilla soft serve.

Katy small avatar
Kaitlyn: Not. A. Clue. Although I think she likes cheese and chocolate a lot… like me. ;)  I do know she loves tea, though!

Pretty spot on, as I’m having chocolate and tea as I format this post!

5. Name their top three favorite authors (one point for each right!)

Rachelia small avatar
Rachelia: DEFINITELY L.M Montgomery . Hmm, Kristin Cashore and JK Rowling?

100% yes to each of these authors. I also love Timothy Findley, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Jane Austen (but I haven’t really reviewed those authors so I’m not surprised she didn’t mention them!).

Katy small avatar


 Kaitlyn: I’m not sure who she’d consider favourite authors because she reads very widely. I know she loves J. K. Rowling. She likes Marie Landry a lot. I think recently she’s become quite a fan of Kristin Cashore. Other than that I couldn’t say… when I think of Rachelia’s reading tastes, they are pretty eclectic and varied, and she isn’t a fanatic of many authors.

This is me to a T. I have such a hard time naming favourite authors because I have varied reading tastes and I don’t usually end up reading a lot of any one author’s work. There would be a few others  I could think of (like David Levithan) but she has my most recent obsessions absolutely correct.

6. What is one thing you both LOVE other than books?

Rachelia small avatar
Rachelia: Dogs! Mystery shows! Country music!

Yes, yes, and yes! Now that I think about it almost everything that I’m into these days overlaps with Rachelia’s interests.

Rachelia small avatar
Rachelia: MUHAHAHAH that has  been my grand scheme all along, Katy! ;) JK. But it’s practically the same for me being drawn into your interests too (Murdoch Mysteries, Rookie Blue, Kristin Cashore).

Katy small avatar


 Kaitlyn: TRAVEL. Big time :) We are both very introverted and homebodies at heart, but we also have LOTS of wanderlust at times!

Hmm, I’ll give this one to Katy, since we both studied abroad. That’s the only time I’ve travelled, but it is true, we do share a lot of wanderlust!

7. What is their favorite genre?

Rachelia small avatar


 Rachelia: Might be a tie between fantasy and contemporary?

Yes – depends on my mood for which is a favourite – but I’d have to throw historical fiction in there as a three-way tie. (And medieval fantasy is a particular favourite because it kind of ticks both of those boxes!)
Katy small avatar

 Kaitlyn: Historical fiction. She’s a huuuge history nerd, which is no surprise considering she majored in history in university!

Yes, and also contemporary! (Can’t believe I forgot historical fiction for you!!)

8. What’s their favorite TV show?

Rachelia small avatar
Rachelia: Heartland, Rookie Blue.

Haha yep! That’s my winter show and my summer show. I don’t allow myself to watch more than one show regularly, but I have been known to voraciously binge-watch others when I have a school break. ;)

Katy small avatar
Kaitlyn: Rachelia’s a bit of a TV buff. She’s a huge Buffy fan! Also Sherlock, Gilmore Girls, and Downton Abbey.

Katy could have named like 20+ different shows, haha! Recent favourites are Murdoch Mysteries (which I watched on her recommendation) and Suits (just finished season 2 last night).

9. What month is their birthday in?

Rachelia small avatar
Rachelia: Ahhh without looking at Facebook *thinks hard* I don’t think I have missed it this year so… I think it’s middle of June?

Yes! I am impressed… I am bad with dates. :(

Katy small avatar


 Kaitlyn: I know it’s in August and I think it’s around the 17th… because if I’m not mistaken, it’s just around two months after mine!

August 16th! Good estimate!

10. What is the last post/video she posted? (a good friend follows your blog of course!)

Rachelia small avatar
Rachelia: Review of The History of Love (at the time we did the quiz this was correct). (Aaaand I actually haven’t had time to read and comment on it, whoooops!)

I know Rachelia has been faithfully reading my reviews lately so I knew she’d get this right! :D

Katy small avatar
Kaitlyn: This is pretty easy considering we’re co-authors of our blog, but her last post was about reducing blogging and giveaway costs. (Which is fantastic! Check it out!)

Scoring

Each answer is a point. So:

1-3 points It seems you need to chat a bit more!  Get down to the nitty gritty!

5-6 points Warming up!  Definitely need to delve a little deeper to maintain ur BFF status though!

7-8 points Woo! You’re on fire. Almost perfect. Maybe pay a but more attention to small details but give each other a high five you’re awesome!

9-12 YOU ARE SOLID AS THEY COME AND WIN ALL THE POINTS. AMAZING FRIENDSHIP AWARD GOES TO U!

Rachelia small avatar
Rachelia: I got 11 correct! Woo hoo!

 

Katy small avatar
Kaitlyn: 12 correct! BOO YA! :)

 

JOIN THE CONVO!

That was SO much fun! Have you taken the Blogging BFFs Quiz? If so, leave a link in the comments! Who would you say is your blogging BFF? Your BFF IRL? Did any of our answers surprise you? What do we have in common? Let us know!

Duo Signature (FINAL)

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{Review} Longbourn by Jo Baker

May 26, 2014 Review 2 ★★★★

{Review} Longbourn by Jo BakerLongbourn by Jo Baker
Published by Knopf Books on October 8, 2013
Genres: Adult, Historical Fiction
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants' hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended.

Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen's classic - into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars - and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own.

COVER TALK

I like this cover, and the image of the maid is obviously indicative of the story that is about to unfold. I think the cover represents the story well and is appealing to look at, but it’s not a cover that would initially draw me in. I was more intrigued by the synopsis than the cover with this one.

EXPECTATIONS

I had seen this book all over Chapters for quite a while, and when I eventually picked up a copy to read the flyleaf, I was immediately sucked in by the premise. At the back of the book in an Author’s Note, Baker writes, “When a meal is served in Pride and Prejudice, it has been prepared in Longbourn. When the Bennet girls enter a ball in Austen’s novel, they leave the carriage waiting in this one.” A behind-the-scenes look at daily life in Pride and Prejudice? Consider me sold. I’ve also read a number of great reviews from the book blogging community about this book, and that encouraged me to check this one out from the library once they finally got it in.

MY THOUGHTS

The book is split into three parts, which mimics the format of Pride and Prejudice. The first part was extremely slow for me. There was lots of character development and I did love getting to know the characters intimately, particularly Sarah and Mrs. Hill (my favourites!), but with little to no plot, it was a bit of a drag. I considered putting the book down at many points during this first part.

Things picked up considerably starting with Part II though. This book is certainly all about the drama. While the first part of the novel is kind of a get-to-know-me type of situation, the second and third parts are all about revealing and stirring up secrets and drama. At times Longbourn kind of took on a soap opera feel (so dramatic!), but at the same time, every situation felt real and plausible for the time period.

Baker evidently put a lot of care and time into the research for this novel, because she is able to make Regency England fly off the page and come to life. The details she gives about day-to-day life in the kitchen of Longbourn is what really works here; Baker writes about the small details of the daily tasks of the servantry. For example, she describes at length the tasks required of laundry day: “The copper steamed, a load of linen boiling away in there; in front of her the fogged window was laddered with drips. Sarah stepped neatly from the duckboard by the sinks to the duckboard by the copper, over the murky slither of the stone floor. She slopped the petticoat into the grey bubbling water, lifted the laundry stick, and prodded the fabric down, poking the air out of it, then stirring.” For me, learning about the realities of a servant’s position were the most interesting part of the book.

A lot of reviews that I read about Longbourn felt that the connection to Pride and Prejudice, and the glimpses of the Bennet family, were a huge selling point, both before and during reading. While I’ll admit that I loved the connection when I first read Longbourn’s synopsis, I didn’t enjoy it as much while reading the book. I didn’t feel that Baker had really understood Austen’s characters, and Baker’s characterization of them, particularly Elizabeth, Jane, and Lydia, felt off to me. (But I have to admit that I loved seeing Mary’s character a little more fleshed out, with a little more depth and intrigue.) The connection to Pride and Prejudice became a drawback because I didn’t like how Baker portrayed the Bennet family and I didn’t think it fit well with how Austen characterized them initially.

However, the class differences in Regency England are much more clear in Longbourn than in Pride and Prejudice. While I love Pride and Prejudice, that novel really only explores class divisions among the upper classes. Longbourn approaches social division from a lower vs. upper class perspective, as well as a gendered approach. This makes the novel a much richer exploration of society. There is one passage in particular that struck me as so striking and so indicative of these problems:

“Elizabeth’s departure, once the rain had stopped, caused no particular trouble to anyone below stairs. She just put on her walking shoes and buttoned up her good spencer, threw a cape over it all, and grabbed an umbrella just in case the rain came on again. Such self-sufficiency was to be valued in a person, but seeing her set off down the track, and then climb the stile, Sarah could not help but think that those stockings would be perfectly ruined, and that petticoat would never be the same again, no matter how long she soaked it. You just could not get mud out of pink Persian. Silk was too delicate a cloth to boil.”

I think many readers of Pride and Prejudice enjoy Elizabeth’s carefree personality and her love of nature, but it’s interesting to me that what is so valued about Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice is actually a fault in Longbourn. Here, Sarah paints Elizabeth as a careless girl who takes no heed of the work that will be required to clean up after her.

Finally, while I found Baker’s writing style very pointed and matter-of-fact for the majority of the novel, there are also sweet moments that are captured beautifully. This passage, for example, was immediately bookmarked as a favourite for me:

“But, if he just turned and looked a little to the left, on the far side of the river, the rye fields stretched flat and silky, and further off, the hills swelled blue and purple like the backs of rising whales, and if you could get out there, beyond these bustling mercantile streets, and walk out through those fields, and up to those hills, and climb up through their heath and heather – the peace of that would be so deep, and so clean.”

Baker doesn’t try to mimic Pride and Prejudice in regards to Austen’s hallmark wit, and instead takes her own unique approach to Regency England. I think that’s the key to success her: encapsulating the characters and cultural tone of the era, without appropriating Austen’s trademark style as well.

4 Stars

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{Review} The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

May 20, 2014 Review 7 ★★★

{Review} The History of Love by Nicole KraussThe History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Published by W. W. Norton & Co. on May 17, 2006
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Historical Fiction
Pages: 260
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Leo Gursky taps his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he s still alive. But it wasn t always like this: in the Polish village of his youth, he fell in love and wrote a book. . . . Sixty years later and half a world away, fourteen-year-old Alma, who was named after a character in that book, undertakes an adventure to find her namesake and save her family. With virtuosic skill and soaring imaginative power, Nicole Krauss gradually draws these stories together toward a climax of "extraordinary depth and beauty (Newsday)."

COVER TALK

I feel like the cover is pretty unremarkable – I don’t dislike it, but I don’t think it’s interesting enough to drawn me in on it’s own either. (Though I think the title does a pretty good job of that.)

EXPECTATIONS

I don’t remember where or when I first heard of The History of Love, but I know it was a long time ago. I think I may have seen the spine in my public library and been caught up by the title, but it’s taken me years to get around to reading it.

MY THOUGHTS

I should probably start off by saying that overall I really liked this book: it was moving, this subject matter was interesting, and there were sentences in the novel that made me say out loud to my mom, “Gosh! This writing is just beautiful!” I’ve included a quotation below to show you what I mean, because I don’t know how to describe Krauss’s writing other than lyrical and poetic and awesome:

“Once upon a time there was a boy who lived in a house across the field from a girl who no longer exists. They made up a thousand games. She was Queen and he was King. In the autumn light, her hair shone like a crown. They collected the world in small handfuls. When the sky grew dark they parted with leaves in their hair.”

There are multiple main characters to this book, because it follows a variety of perspectives, but Leo Gursky, Zvi Litvinoff, and Alma Singer occupy the majority of the novel’s focus. One of the things I loved about this novel so much was the depth of character development. Each character was fully realized and felt heartbreakingly real and familiar. They are each so different – Leo is an old man waiting for death, and Alma is a 15-year-old coping with her father’s death and her mother’s grief. Both of these characters felt so real and their emotions were startlingly recognizable. I also felt particularly drawn to Alma’s descriptions of her mother. She says, “My mother is lonely even when we’re around her, but sometimes my stomach hurts when I think about what will happen to her when I grow up and go away to start the rest of my life. Other times I imagine I’ll never be able to leave at all.” Krauss is also able to write characters who feel down-to-earth, not just emotionally relatable; for example, I love this bit about Alma’s mother: “Sometimes she would get stuck on [translating] a certain sentence for hours and go around like a dog with a bone until she’d shriek out, “I’VE GOT IT!” and scurry off to her desk to dig a hole and bury it.” The book is pretty sad and I was struck, in the case of each character in the novel, how overwhelmingly melancholy they are. It is a book with a pretty gloomy tone but I think there is something beautiful in the way a reader can relate to each character’s sadness in a unique way.

I was often struck by how artistic and beautiful The History of Love is, but I also had a lot of problems with it.

While I really enjoyed the multiple perspectives Krauss explores, I also found that it made the book really difficult to read. The chapters do not start out by explicitly identifying the speaker, so you only come to have a concrete understanding of who’s saying what after you can identify each character’s inimitable tone. The plot contains several instances of mistaken identity, and this didn’t help the situation; I felt multiple times that I had no clue what was going on, and I even resorted to looking up the plot synopsis on Wikipedia. I was pretty close to putting the book down at this point, simply because I was getting really frustrated with having to work so hard to understand the plot lines. Because of this, I think this is a book that would really benefit from – and maybe even really get its moment to shine during – a reread. I would really like to revisit it with the knowledge of the ending (to be honest, it’s not much of a shocker in the first place), and I think this would allow me to appreciate the book’s strengths a lot more.

Ultimately, there were parts of this book that I loved, but other parts that were really frustrating. The writing itself was great, and I loved the characters and the premise. But, the structure of the book was a huge barrier for me and it really prevented me from enjoying the story as much as I feel like I could have, had the author chose to present it differently.

I also just have to note that while reading, I was struck by how similar the novel is to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Zoer. As the book’s Wikipedia page says, “The History of Love was published in early 2005 as was Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, written by Jonathan Safran Zoer who had just married Krauss. Both books feature a precocious youth who set out in New York City on a quest. Both protagonists encounter old men with memories of World War II (a Holocaust survivor in Krauss and a survivor of the Dresden firebombing in Foer). Both old men recently suffered the death of long-lost sons. The stories also use some similar and uncommon literary techniques, such as unconventional typography.” I am interested in what you think about that, particularly if you’ve read both books. I wonder if they would both exist, if their authors weren’t married (my initial thought is that they definitely wouldn’t exist in the form they take now), or if The History of Love, which was originally published May 2 where Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was published April 1, would be considered plagiarism if the authors weren’t married. Interesting to think about how much texts can change based on such a simple thing.

JOIN THE CONVO!

Have you read The History of Love or Extremely Cloud and Incredibly Close? What did you think of the novels on their own, or compared to each other? Do you enjoy narratives with multiple perspectives? If so, I would love to hear your thoughts (or any others) in the comments below!

3 Stars

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{Review} Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman

May 12, 2014 Review 0 ★★★★★

{Review} Ex Libris by Anne FadimanEx Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
Published by Farrar Straus and Giroux on November 25, 2000
Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
Pages: 162
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Anne Fadiman is--by her own admission--the sort of person who learned about sex from her father's copy of Fanny Hill, whose husband buys her 19 pounds of dusty books for her birthday, and who once found herself poring over her roommate's 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only written material in the apartment that she had not read at least twice.

This witty collection of essays recounts a lifelong love affair with books and language. For Fadiman, as for many passionate readers, the books she loves have become chapters in her own life story. Writing with remarkable grace, she revives the tradition of the well-crafted personal essay, moving easily from anecdotes about Coleridge and Orwell to tales of her own pathologically literary family. As someone who played at blocks with her father's 22-volume set of Trollope ("My Ancestral Castles") and who only really considered herself married when she and her husband had merged collections ("Marrying Libraries"), she is exquisitely well equipped to expand upon the art of inscriptions, the perverse pleasures of compulsive proof-reading, the allure of long words, and the satisfactions of reading out loud. There is even a foray into pure literary gluttony--Charles Lamb liked buttered muffin crumbs between the leaves, and Fadiman knows of more than one reader who literally consumes page corners. Perfectly balanced between humor and erudition, Ex Libris establishes Fadiman as one of our finest contemporary essayists.

COVER TALK

I really like the design choices for this book.  The simplicity of the cover design is really attractive, and I adore the illustration. A girl sitting on a stack of books pretty much defines my childhood (though I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever sat on a stack of books).

EXPECTATIONS

I originally heard about Ex Libris from Tania (who wrote the fashion blog What Would a Nerd Wear from 2009 to 2012, which I love), here and here. Her reviews are glowing, so I was really excited to pick up Ex Libris. It’s a book about loving books, so I couldn’t resist when I accidentally came across it in Chapters one day.

MY THOUGHTS

I loved Ex Libris. As I said, it’s a book about books, but what I like about this one is that Fadiman talks about so many different aspects of reading. Ex Libris is comprised of eighteen essays, each on a different aspect of reading; for example, there are essays on “marrying libraries,” or the process of integrating one’s library with one’s significant other; categorizing and organizing libraries; the joy of words; writing in books; etc. Fadiman writing reveals her as a lifelong, passionate lover of books; she describes growing up surrounded by books, and in doing so, she writes, “My brother and I were able to fantasize far more extravagantly about our parents’ tastes and desires, their aspirations and their vices, by scanning their bookcases than by snooping in their closets. Their selves were on their shelves.” To me, this sentiment encapsulates so much of what I love about Ex Libris. It’s a book about loving books, but it’s also about how books shape people, and the power they have once they have infiltrated our lives.

One of my favourite essays was the first one, “Marrying Libraries.” I’ve never gone through this process myself, but I’ll be honest – it’s definitely something I’ve thought about before! Fadiman talks about a number of dilemmas readers face when consolidating libraries, like whose copy of the same book to keep, and whose organizational system to use.  I have to share one exchange Fadiman writes about from this process, because I laughed out loud:

     “You mean we’re going to be chronological within each author?” he gasped. “But no one even knows for sure when Shakespeare wrote his plays!”
“Well,” I blustered, “we know he wrote Romeo and Juliet before The Tempest. I’d like to see that reflected on our shelves.”
George says that was one of the few times he has seriously contemplated divorce.

This small example of Fadiman’s dry, wry humour is one of the reasons I love the book so much. We have a similar taste in humour, so I found many parts of the book hilarious. Fadiman’s tales about coming from a well-read family are hilarious. I thought the stories she recounted about reading-related mishaps were so true to life, and the way Fadiman reports them really makes her memories come to life in an entertaining way.

I also loved her essay “The Odd Shelf,” because it introduced an idea to me I’d never considered before. “It has long been my belief that everyone’s library contains an Odd Shelf,” she writes. “On this shelf rests a small, mysterious corpus of volumes whose subject matter is completely unrelated to the rest of the library, yet which, upon closer inspection, reveals a good deal about its owner. George Orwell’s Odd Shelf held a collection of bound sets of ladies’ magazines from the 1860s, which he liked to read in his bathtub. Philip Larkin had an especially capacious Odd Shelf crammed with pornography, with an emphasis on spanking. Vice Admiral James Stockdale, having heard that Frederick the Great had never embarked on a campaign without his copy of The Encheiridion, brought to Vietnam the complete works of Epictetus, whose Stoic philosophy was to sustain him through eight years as a prisoner of war. My own Odd Shelf holds sixty-four books about polar exploration: expedition narratives, journals, collections of photographs, works of natural history, and naval manuals.” Isn’t it fascinating to think about 1) your own Odd Shelf contains, and 2) what everyone else’s does? I had never thought about my own book collection in this way, and I’m not quite sure yet how I’d characterize my Odd Shelf, but it seems like a really fun way to get to know someone, or to think about other people’s libraries critically as an extension of their person.

I think a lot of readers will empathize with Fadiman’s “Never Do That to a Book,” in one way or another. The essay explores the idea of two types of readers, characterized as lovers: courtly lovers and carnal lovers. Fadiman opens the discussion by recounting a family trip in which the hotel chambermaid left a note on Fadiman’s brother’s book, saying he should never leave a book facedown on a table. Fadiman writes, “I came to realize that just as there is more than one way to love a person, there is more than one way to love a book. The chambermaid believed in courtly love. A book’s physical self was sacrosanct to her, its form inseparable from its content; her duty as a lover was Platonic adoration, a noble but doomed attempt to conserve forever the state of perfect chastity in which it had left the bookseller. The Fadiman family believed in carnal love. 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.” I feel like book lovers can be strictly divided on this subject, and I myself have undergone quite a change in perspective on the matter. Throughout my childhood I was a courtly lover of literature, but after studying English literature at university, I have become more of a carnal lover of literature: I no longer cringe at writing in books, or bending the pages, or the covers fraying. I still hate the thought of dog-earing pages, but I am pretty lax about everything else these days.

One of my other favourite essays was “The P.M.’s Empire of Books,” which is all about how to organize and catalogue one’s personal library. In it Fadiman talks quite extensively about Gladstone’s On Books and the Housing of Them, which presents a really detailed mathematical model for building a library that maximizes space most efficiently. Fadiman writes, “As I contemplate the vista of my own book-choked apartment, I sometimes wonder whether the only thing that could prevent my library from extruding me onto the streets of Manhattan would be a visit from Gladstone and a few rolling shelves.” I think we can all relate to that, no? I have books coming out of my ears in my room.

One thing that is very clear is Fadiman’s extensive literary knowledge. The fact that she is so well-read shines through in her writing, and I love the way she writes: with variety and vivacity. One thing that continually struck me is how exciting her sentence structure is – I realize that may be an odd thing to notice, but I feel like that can often be the mark of a really great writer. Fadiman clearly knows how to write well, and her essays read like sharply edited snippets with relevant recollections and humorous anecdotes thrown in.

Ultimately, I recommend this 100%, to any book lover. In one of Tania’s reviews, she wrote that “my family likes to joke that we are single-handedly keeping food on the Fadiman family table, because we’ve bought this collection of essays for any friend who’s had a birthday in the past ten years.” I can definitely see myself contributing to the sales of this book in a similar way in the future, because it has become an automatic gift idea for every reader in my life!

JOIN THE CONVO!

Do you enjoy reading books about books? Have you ever read Ex Libris, or any of Anne Fadiman’s other work? If so, I would love to hear your thoughts (or any others) in the comments below!

5 Stars

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