A Week in Books: A happy family of constant readers
Boyd Tonkin is Senior Writer and a columnist at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Literary Editor at The Independent, and before that Social Policy Editor and then Books Editor at the New Statesman magazine. He has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes and has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize. In 2001, he re-founded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for literature in translation, and serves on its judging panel every year.
Saturday 24 April 1999
Even in richer climes, books may do much more than furnish a room. In Ex Libris (Allen Lane, pounds 9.99), Anne Fadiman collects 18 charmingly obsessive essays about her lifetime of bibliophilia. Fadiman (who edits The American Scholar) is the sort of print junkie who can spend "many a lonely night in small-town hotel rooms consoled by the Yellow Pages". Even in the week of her first child's birth, she got stuck into an 1877 primer on "distaff virtues" by a priest. Then she asked her husband to grade her on Father O'Reilly's scale - "religious fervour, 0; thrift, 3"... but "kindness, 10; truthfulness, 10".
As those scores suggest, this witty book can sound a teensy-weensy bit smug. Fadiman is one of those elegantly upmarket US journos who seem so much less grubby than their Brit peers. Writers' memoirs and early novels often tell a tale of learning snatched from the jaws of poverty or mockery. Not so Fadiman, who hails from a book-worshipping family and still cherishes the teenage marginalia in her copy of Middlemarch ("page 37: `Grrr'; page 261: `Bullshit'; page 294: `Yccch'").
My delight in a fellow addict's printed pleasures withered only once: as she remembered her folks clustered around the US equivalent of University Challenge, trouncing all the jocks up on the screen. This cute foursome called itself "Fadiman U." and only lost to their rivals on the TV twice "in five or six years of competition". One feels (unlike the author) somewhat lost for words - except, perhaps, "Grrr", or even "Yccch".
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
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- 2 Mystery man who gave mum heart-warming note on train 'wanted to put a smile on her face'
- 3 Michelle Obama highlights harsh restrictions faced by Saudi women after meeting King Salman without wearing a headscarf
- 4 Mafia's wall of silence broken: Victim of Cosa Nostra's extortion rackets in its Corleone heartland co-operates with authorities for the first time ever
- 5 Amal Clooney gives excellent answer to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Game of Thrones season 5: Grey Worm actor Jacob Anderson is all for more male nudity – as long as it’s not him
The Jump 2015 line-up: Joey Essex, Phil Tufnell, Heather Mills and co take to the slopes
New Ghostbusters movie lands all-female cast with Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones
Grumpy Roald Dahl letter warning student to 'eschew beastly adjectives' rediscovered after 35 years
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
Louise Mensch says 'F**K YOU' in explosive tweets about David Cameron, Saudi Embassy and the Queen over King Abdullah tributes