This is a delightful slim book, a collection of personal essays about her love of reading.
In "Marrying Libraries", she and her husband embark on merging their libraries. "After five years of marriage and a child, George and I finally resolved that we were ready for the more profound intimacy of library consolidation."
They had to agree on which order to shelve their books, how to deal with the duplicates, whether to be a lumper or a splitter. "His books commingled democratically....mine were balkanized by nationality and subject matter. Like most people with a high tolerance for clutter, George maintains a basic trust in three-dimensional objects. If he wants something, he believes it will present itself, and therefore it usually does. I, on the other hand, believe that books, maps, scissors and Scotch tape dispensers are all unreliable vagrants, likely to take off for parts unknown unless strictly confined to quarters."
It was only once they accomplished this mammoth task that they really felt married.
I always love reading about the passionately held attitudes of bibliophiles towards their books. One of my favourite essay was "Never Do That to a Book". When her brother left a book open and facedown on a hotel night table, he was chastised with a note from the chambermaid: "SIR, YOU MUST NEVER DO THAT TO A BOOK". This categorises the chambermaid as a "courtly" lover of books. The Fadiman family on the other hand, are "carnal" lovers of books. It is all about the words, not the physical structure that holds them, so it is "...no sacrilege to treat them as wantonly as desire and pragmatism dictated."
Dog-earing, bookmarking, spine-breaking are all just variations of useful ways to mark your progression through a book. "...closing a book on a bookmark is like pressing the Stop button, whereas when you leave the book facedown, you've only pressed Pause."
Fadiman treasures the books for the words they contain, and so values the worn and marked up book. It reflects its life, its caresses, its communion with the reader. In "Secondhand Prose", when receiving a very old 2-volume book set with uncut pages, she realises the books have never been read and "...was overcome with melancholy...I had the urge to lend them to as many friends as possible in order to make up for all of the caresses they had missed during their first century."
These are wonderful reflections on the joy and deep satisfaction of being a Reader. She writes gracefully, with humour, and with passion.
I wish there were more essays - this book finished too soon.