This originated as a collection of magazine articles by Anne Fadiman about how words and books have been part of her whole existence. Those who know her might be able to think of her without her words and books but as a reader I can’t. They are part of her.
In this series of essays we learn how lucky she was to grow up with a father who delighted in long words and a story he told them about a squiggly little vermicule called Wally who didn’t merely like books, he ate them.
Wally savored such high-calorie morsels as syzyry, ptarmigan – which tasted terrible, at first, until he threw away the p – and sesquipedalian, which looks as if it means “long word” and, in fact, it does.
At this point the spell checker on this laptop is throwing a fit. It doesn’t like the words I have typed. But that’s OK. It’s just too bad if it doesn’t like my spelling. I trust my own version of English.
We learn about Anne’s early reading through to the merging of libraries with her husband, and a bit about Arctic exploration with Sir John Franklin and how the guns had been left behind on the ship but a copy of The Vicar of Wakefield included in the luggage.
They may have been incompetent bunglers, but, by God, they were gentlemen,
Her love of sonnets, her brother’s sin of leaving an open book face down on a table, book inscriptions , reading books while in the places where they are set and compulsory proof-reading are just some of the delights she touches on. But it is all words and books, all those thoughts some of us might have but don’t have the ability to translate into words, or at least words that would be of interest to anyone else, which make this such a fascinating read.
For me it was a coffee break book., one chapter at a time. A book to be sipped, not gulped. Anne Fadiman is someone you would like to have at the dinner table. She delights you in this book.
But thinking in general now, how representative of the real person is their writing. Every now and then you see someone being interviewed in a book show on the television and, though you have thought their book quite brilliant, you find them to be a pompous bore or or unbelievably egotistical. Mostly I prefer to stay in the dream world of the book and and leave the author in a separate world.
This was first published in 1998 but is standing the test of time.