Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sunday Salon: Confessions of a Reader (Part Three)

This is the final installment of my own thoughts as I read Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman. I haven't touched upon every essay in the book, just the ones that made the biggest impression on me. If you are curious and have yet to do so, please check out Part One and Part Two.

Thoughts of this common reader (continued):

"Inset a Carrot" (The title of this essay is simplified here because I do not know how to add in the edit marks)- While dining out one night, the Fadiman family began perusing the menu, each of them pointing out errors in spelling and wording as they went along. The Fadiman's are natural proofreaders and have taken this habit a step farther. Anne's mother, for example, collects newspaper clippings filled with errors and plans to one day ship them all to the editor.

I spend a good part of my workday proofreading and making corrections. It is no wonder then that when I sit down to read a book, I have a difficult time ignoring the errors. Still, if I am caught up in a story, sometimes I am willing to overlook the minor mistakes. Unfortunately for my staff, their work is rarely that captivating.

Anne also mentions her annoying habit of looking over her husband's shoulder and making corrections to his writing. I am guilty of this as well, I admit. I am not quite as quick at finding my own errors, however, and sometimes miss them altogether. It can be quite embarrassing.

"Eternal Ink" - The perfect writing utensil can sometimes act as a muse. With the advent of computers, more and more people are using computers to write, which for some makes the process more impersonal, more hurried, and less romantic.

I have had favorite pens and pencils over the years, but none stand out in memory. I am one of those people who finds it easier to compile my thoughts and write on the computer than to pen something by hand. My thoughts come faster than my pen will write, sometimes faster than I can hit the keys, but the convenience of copying, pasting, moving text around until it fits perfectly together is hard to beat. When I do write, I prefer to write in pencil. Perhaps it is my insecurities coming through or just the fact that I like the gentler touch of a pencil. It is not as permanent, certainly, but my thoughts are not always permanent. I cross out just as much as I use the eraser. I don't mind smudges in my notebook from the eraser. I think it adds a bit of character.

My husband is much more specific about the type of pen he uses than I am. He prefers "the Uniball Roller Micro (5mm), made by Sanford, preferable in black," although he likes to have a variety handy for other purposes.

"The Literary Glutten" - Although I eat when I read, I rarely develop an appetite for a food I may be reading about at any given moment. It is different for Anne, however, for whom food in books creates an appetite.

I asked my husband where he stands on this subject: "Yeah, reading about food does nothing for me. Unless someone eats pizza. That's usually enough to start a craving."

"My Ancestral Castles" - Anne was raised in a home of readers. They were a family that read together as well as on their own. I imagine there was not a place in her house where there was not a book to be found. Bookshelves lined the walls. A person's bookshelves say a lot about them, sometimes revealing more about the person then he or she might realize.

When I enter a house, my eyes automatically search out the books. While not every booklover is a collector of books, there usually are some books out and about, even if they are library books. I especially love it when visitors to my home do the same, stopping in front of my shelves and start browsing the titles. I feel a sense of pride in my collection, as motley as it might be. I am not really sure what my books say about me, although I attempted to figure it out in last week's Sunday Salon. Maybe my library says I have too busy of a mind.

"Secondhand Prose" - It is no surprise that Anne is drawn to used bookstores. As a carnal booklover and one who values inscriptions as she does, she can fully appreciate the treasures that are tucked away in the cozy used bookshop, not to mention coming across an older out of print book that cannot be found elsewhere.

I admit that I prefer new books to old, but there certainly is something special about a used book, one that has crossed through many hands, is read and appreciated, has that irresistible old book smell, and will most likely be passed on again at some point. Isn't that the purpose of books? Books are the ultimate way to tell a story, a story to be shared with many others, passed along for generations to come.

A couple of days ago, a friend sent me the link to Rachel Donadio's article in The New York Times Sunday Book Review, "It's Not You, It's Your Books," an essay about how taste in literature can sometimes get in the way of love. It is an interesting article and at times worth a few chuckles.

My husband and I are fortunate enough to share a love for the written word. We have similar tastes, but sometimes we disagree. It seems only natural. I have reader friends whose significant others barely open a magazine to read at any given time, much less bother with books. Many are happy in their relationships. Since it was books and writing that initially brought my husband and I together, I cannot fathom the idea of not having that in common with my spouse. Reading and books are an important part of my life, and I personally would prefer to share it with someone who feels similarly. But that is just me. I do not believe there is any one recipe for a successful relationship.

This past week I seemed to hit the jackpot in ARE's. The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway arrived as did The Book of Dahlia by Elisa Albert. I found one sitting on my front porch and the other behind the back gate. Both delivered on the same day. Obviously signs that the books came via different routes. It almost felt like an Easter egg hunt! I also received an ARE of After Hours at the Almost Home by Tara Yellen as well as a copy of The Arthurian Omen by G.G. Vandagriff, a Library Thing Early Reviewer selection. It wasn't my birthday, was it?

After reading Bibliolatrist's review of Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates, I could not wait to add it to my TBR collection and so picked up a copy while at the store yesterday. Since I was already there, I stopped by the discount table and picked up copies of Skylight Confessions by Alice Hoffman and Clockers by Richard Price as well.

Buy a Friend a Book Week officially begins Tuesday with several contests already underway in the blogosphere. Will you be surprising someone with a book this week?


  1. I have truly truly enjoyed the multipart review of Anne Fadiman's book. I'm trying to keep myself from, and I've been good for a couple of months now, but..well, next stop...Thanks. I think.

  2. Like yo and Fadiman I edit as I read, getting more and more frustrated by the minute. This week a pamphlet from a local political group came through the door. Every occurrence of says was wrongly spelt say's. And they want me to vote on their education platform?????

  3. I've really enjoyed this 3 part series and will definitely be looking up the book.

    I agree about the editing *affliction* I can spot someone else's mistake at 100 paces but mine sometimes slip through the cracks...

    @table talk - that really is quite ironic!

  4. My husband reads - but entirely different books from me. This is an interesting point, though - if books say something about you is it a case of opposites attract?

    I've really enjoyed reading your comments about this book. I love indulging in a bit of 'Me too!' I am sorely tempted but am under a self-imposed moratorium until my TBR is shorter than I am. I'll console myself by adding to my virtual shopping basket at Amazon.

  5. I've enjoyed learning about your reading habits in the framework of Fadiman's book. Because of your posts, I got my own copy last week! :)

  6. I am loving reading your thoughts. This has made me want the book!


    PS: I have already bought books for my nieces, nephews and friends! For mom too!

  7. I'm chuckling at the compulsion to edit as we read! I belonged to several critique groups for a time when I was working on my writing. I actually love to critique - but the problem with it (especially at that time) was that I could no longer enjoy the "sport" reading (the reading that is for sheer entertainment even if the writing is not that great!). I started seeing all the passive words, the telling vs. showing, etc...Even now, I pick up on things as I read...I just can't seem to shut it off *laughs*

    I think it is hilarious that Anne's mother is collecting newspaper mistakes to send to the editor!!!!

  8. Thanks for this series on this fascinating book. I really enjoyed your thoughts on each essay.

    My husband and I also share a love for books. I can't imagine what our relationship would have been like without that common interest.

    I read Bibliolotrists review on Rape: A Love Story a few days ago and was similarly impressed. My wishlist will always be full, I guess!

  9. Ha! I published a post on literary dealbreakers myself. B doesn't read books much, but he reads a TON of everything else. I would say we definitely read about the same amount, and he doesn't give me too hard a time about my huge collection.

    As for the favorite writing utensil essay...I'm a computer girl. Like you, my thoughts just come too darn fast to write by hand.

  10. It's been really fun reading your thoughts on some of the essays in this book. I definitely will have to pick it up for myself someday.
    I usually notice typos and such too. Of course mistakes like that are everywhere here. I'm constantly pointing them out to H but some of them really are quite funny!

  11. I like looking at people's bookshelves too, and I like it when they look at mine. They may be "only" books, but to me it feels like sharing something important. Which brings me to the literary dealbreakers. I completely agree that there is no single recipe for a healthy relationship, and I know that a voracious reader can be perfectly happy with a non-reader. But I think I would have a hard time feeling close to someone who didn't understand why books matter so much to me.

  12. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on Fadiman's book, and it's made me really keen to read that one myself. I going back to check out your other posts in the series.

    I just read the NYT piece last night, and it was quite humorous. My huband has just become a reader - I think because he has more time now than in his younger years. We don't always read the same books, but its fun when we do.

  13. Happy Sunday! Thanks for the head-up about Buy a Friend a Book Week.

  14. I'm another one who finds herself editing and proofing while I read books. I tend to do it more when the book isn't quite so good to begin with, but finding things that should have been corrected prior to publication is more frustrating and disappointing to me when it's a very good book.

    I actually really enjoy food writing. Sometimes it makes me hungry, but it often inspires me to get into the kitchen and cook something.

    I love the fact that (this time) I married a guy who also enjoys reading, and I've liked introducing him to some new writers. But in reading that article, it occurred to me that taste in music matters more than books in my evaluation of what I might have in common with someone. (We have a lot of similarities in that area too,by the way.)

    Thanks for a great Salon, Wendy!

  15. Enjoyed reading your thoughts on Anne Fadiman's book. I haven't read any of her book yet, so I'll have to check it out.

    And that's a wonderful list of books you received, Wendy! I can't wait to hear your thoughts on them. Happy reading!

  16. It's been such a long time since I read Fadiman's book that your post is making me want to read it again! :)
    Oh and thank you so much for the reminder of BAFAB... I somehow always miss it but I'll see if I can pull together something for this... I like your idea of giving away something from your stacks. I was planning to do a bit of shelf weeding so this might work out perfectly :)

  17. I'm another reader who's enjoyed your comments about the Fadiman book. Of course, now this means another book I have to buy or try to convince our local library to buy!

  18. Bybee - I'm so glad so many people enjoyed it. I sometimes do take notes when I read, and this one had me scribbling away.

    Ann - You're too funny! I get a kick out of pamphlets and mailings that are full of spelling and grammatical errors. It's embarrassing that people let things go out in mass mailings like that.

    Mrs. S - I usually let my husband read my blog posts before I post them and then I run through them again. I still miss things.

    Clare - It could be a case of opposites attract. My husband and I have similar tastes although we do differ in some areas.

    I hope you aren't short like me. That would be a long time to wait before buying a new book.

    Hsien Lei - I hope you will enjoy the book as much as I did.

    Gautami - Your family is very lucky to be receiving books this week. I hope they enjoy them!

    Wendy - I try and separate the two, wearing a reader hat and a proofreader hat, depending on what I am reading. Unfortunately, it's not so easy to switch off that editor switch sometimes.

    I left out just how far Anne herself went because I didn't want to spoil the entire essay, but it had me laughing too.

    Jaimie - Thanks. I feel very lucky that I married a man who understands my passion for books.

    I don't think our wish lists will ever be empty.

  19. Andi - I saw that! I haven't had a chance to read your blog post yet, but I saw that you linked to the author's blog. It was an interesting article and funny too.

    I'm glad I'm not the only person who prefers to write on the computer.

    Tanabata - Yes, some mistakes can be quite hilarious, can't they? I love it when I find one in the newspaper. I always point them out to my husband too.

    Nymeth - There's definitely a bonding process that takes place when admiring someone else's books, I think.

    I think I would have had a difficult time falling for someone who didn't understand my love for books either. I'm just glad I didn't have to find out.

    Ravenousreader - I hope you will read the book.

    My husband and I don't always read the same books either, but as you said, it's fun when we do. There are a couple of authors we both enjoy and it's fun to compare notes with each other.

    J. Kaye - Happy Sunday to you too!
    I don't participate in every BAFBW, but I always have fun when I do.

    Florinda - I'm the same way. The less invested I feel in a book, the more likely I am to notice mistakes, however, if I am completely immersed in a book, I might no notice mistakes unless they are major ones.

    I can see how similar music tastes can be important in a relationship too. My husband and I probably have more similar tastes in books than we do in music, but we've come around somewhat in those music categories we once completely disagreed on.

    Melody - Thank you. I'm looking forward to reading my new books. I wish I could take a long vacation and spend all my time reading . . .

    Iliana - It's one of those books that I can see myself returning to now and then. Even if just in parts.

    I always forget about BAFABW too. I was determined not to this time around.

    Joy - I'm glad! It was fun to share my thoughts with everyone and hear what others had to say on the subjects mentioned. I do hope you get a chance to read it.

  20. I really enjoyed both the book and your reviews of it. I'd never actually considered that someone's reading habits would preclude me from entering a relationship with them.

    The editing thing! I wish I could turn it off! But alas. Only my errors seem to escape me. Usually. :)

  21. I enjoyed the comments on Ex Libris.
    Done well, food in books inspires me. Donna Leon's mysteries come to mind as an example.
    I also edit as I read and find more and more errors these days.
    The bits about looking at others' bookshelves was interesting. A relative once told me (I believe it was a critique of my home!) that books did not belong in public rooms and should be housed in bedrooms only. I just laughed.
    I wouldn't have room if I tried that one.

  22. Shonna - books don't belong in public rooms? The horror! The wrongness!

    The more I think about reading compatibility, the more I wonder if that was one of the underlying reasons why it all fell apart.

  23. Carrie K - Thank you! I do try to turn off the editor in my sometimes, but it's not easy.

    I think that reading compatibility can play a major part in a relationship, but not always. I'd say it has to do with with the level of obsession, but that's not true because I have friends who are very passionate about their books but are with mates who could care less. It's hard to know.

    Shonna - Thanks! I've been noticing more errors too in published works. I wonder if its lack of attention to detail, mass production, or what.

    I wouldn't be able to find my bed if I hid all my books in my bedroom! Haha

  24. Editing, ha! I've become a little lazy with my writing--and I'm not even sure why I feel it is OK to admit it. :) Husband is dyslexic, so I spend a lot of time correcting his work. Fortunately he has developed a pretty thick skin, though. But, because of his dyslexia, he hates to read. He did read my beautifully illustrated copy of Peter Pan the other day--the first book he's read since Harry Potter 7 (which I finished reading aloud to him on a cartrip). I wish I could share my reading with him, but we focus on our other mutual interests and I blog to get my book-talk fix.

    Anyway, great thoughts in these posts. Thanks for sharing!

  25. Trish - I think sometimes all of us become lazy with our writing. I know I do.

    You and your husband are a good example of a relationship that works despite the fact that you don't share a passion for books. I think it's natural to have different interests and hobbies to some degree. I think it's nice to have separate interests as well as common ones.


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