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".
Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy
Arts & Ents blogs
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- 2 Tom Cruise: Reporters banned from asking actor about Scientology
- 3 A-level results 2015: UK exam board OCR admits it 'estimates' hundreds of pupils' grades after papers 'go missing'
- 4 Dutch King Willem-Alexander declares the end of the welfare state
- 5 Giant Minion terrorises drivers in Ireland as 40ft inflatable blocks traffic on Dublin road
Artist Jamie McCartney: How The Great Wall of Vagina is a stand against 'body fascism'
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Michael B Jordan and Kate Mara handle excruciatingly awkward and offensive interview questions like pros
Game of Thrones season 6: 'A Song of Ice and Fire should be finished by 1998,' said George R. R. Martin, 'but don't hold your breath'
Is Britain really full up? Are migrants taking our jobs? Leading academic answers the most common anti-immigration claims
Calais Migrant Crisis: Deputy Mayor of Calais labels Cameron's use of 'swarm' as 'racist' and 'ignorant'
Chris Leslie: Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity agenda will harm the poor, says Labour shadow Chancellor
Landlords renting properties to illegal immigrants to face up to five years in prison
While we fixate on Calais, the Home Office is quietly deporting dozens of migrants on 'ghost flights'
Calais crisis: The seven claims made about the migrants - and the reality