Monday, November 26, 2012

Reads for Writers: Anne Fadiman Provides a Masterclass

From Kate's Writing Crate...

          As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide Masterclasses for me within their books.
          Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don't generally have this option, but I have found some books to be Masterclasses for characters, dialogue, backstories, plots, settings, and/or voice.

          As an avid reader, I never liked to consider what ten books I would want with me on a deserted island. Only ten books just wouldn't do! It's doubtful I would survive with the complete works of ten authors. I need a supply of new books to be happy, even while rereading favorites, which is why I haven't been caught on a boat in years.

          However, there is one book that would make any reading list of mine--Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman.

          I envy you if you have not read this fabulous collection of essays on books, reading, and writing yet. It is the perfect combination of topics, knowledge, vocabulary, passion, insights, appreciation, humor, and life lessons written by a fellow bibliophile.

          Fadiman's life has been intertwined with books from the day she was born to Clifton Fadiman, author, editor, and TV personality, and Annalee Whitmore Jacoby Fadiman, an author, screenwriter, and magazine correspondent. Anne's first building blocks were her father's twenty-two volume set of Trollope. (Her son, Henry, was a bit more destructive; he liked to chew and devour books when he was only eight months old.)

           Books are present in every important phase of her life. She shares the details and the titles with her readers including her introductions to sonnets, sex, and sesquipedalians. After marriage, anyone with an extensive personal library and a spouse with one, too, will relate to her painfully true tale of commingling her books with her husband's.

          But what I appreciated most about her essays is the genuine joy she shares about everything to do with books--shopping for secondhand ones, ways to shelve them, and discovering words new to her in them.

          I, too, enjoy reading books with some unfamiliar words. As a writer, expanding my vocabulary is one of my favorite hobbies. I always have a dictionary close by in the hopes that I will have to look a word up. I had to look up more than usual while reading this book, but, thoughtfully, Fadiman listed the definitions of the new-to-her words at the end of "The Joy of Sesquipedalians" chapter.

          As an editor, I appreciated the "Inset a Carrot / Insert a Caret" chapter. Proofreading is a good, if time consuming, habit. It's also a fun family affair for the Fadimans, including her brother Kim, when they are looking at menus, newspapers, books, and even birthday cakes.

          There are eighteen essays in this book--and I love them all. Her chapter "Never Do That to a Book" will make you both laugh and cringe at the ways people treat their books. A favorite pen is immortalized in "Eternal Ink". And any writer who can also make the receiving of incorrectly addressed catalogs a delightful diversion is a treasure.

          While we have never met, and probably never will, Anne Fadiman's book is next to my Books by Friends and Relatives Shelf (mentioned on page 7) as I consider kindred spirits to be good friends.


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