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Fortunately, he has many fine qualities compensating for this grievous lack.Turning from her husband George, consumer of sorbets, Fadiman again finds an ally in Kim.
Whatever the subject, Anne Fadiman overlooks nothing, imparts everything, and leaves you wanting more.” —Thomas Mallon“These are wonderful essays.
The writing is effortless, elegant, and clear, the subjects delightful or weighty or both. She is also the author of the essay collection Ex Libris and the editor of Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love.
Should you wish to attempt ice cream in this manner, please see page 57. Those who truly wake at sunset inhabit another world, one Fadiman prefers.
There’s the quiet, the sense of unity amongst night owls, the creative juices that flow when all is dark. (Rumblings about Twain and the n-word, as my college professors would say).
Fadiman’s winding sentences are finely wrought; the adjective that comes to mind is the rather archaic “charming.” Quoting her father, the late Clifton Fadiman, she writes: ...great writers are not machines that produce, out of nothingness, of series of words that happen to be more perfect than other people’s words; they are flawed mortals, often imprudent and uncivil, who are so large (that’s what greatness is: size) that every part of them deserves to be understood. Along with her brother, Kim, young Anne joyously netted prey and carefully dropped them into jars, where the poor insects expired in a cloud of carbon tetrachloride.
An exploration of the familiar essay, At Large variously examines lepidoptery, Charles Lamb, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, sleep, arctic exploration, flags, coffee and that most critical of substances, ice cream.Lamb, who cared for his sister Mary after she fatally stabbed their mother, penned many an essay while toiling in positively Dickensian conditions at the East India House, where he (poorly) tallied figures.Like his sister, he battled insanity, though somewhat more successfully.Those of us awake only against our insomniac wills at three a.m. “Procrustes and the Culture Wars” is an amazingly level take on the battles raging through the academy: should we read the “great works” for moral instruction or inherent value? Fadiman navigates us expertly through the shoals: we should read because it enriches us. The wrong recipient, mercifully, was amused.) Other essays are more elegiac in tone.We should not lump the writer in with his or her work -- imagine all the books we’d have to give up! “A piece of cotton,” is nominally about the United States flag but aptly describes how many of us felt after 9/11: sickened, saddened, enraged at our government, and how those mixed feelings told on our treatment of a red, white and blue bit of fabric.Forty years later, it is difficult to envision two children so enthralled by nature that they spend entire afternoons cataloging their natural finds, happily ignoring rap music, gaming and the Internet’s siren song.Certain women, myself amongst them, fall for a certain kind of man: irresponsible, plain of face, depressed, tending toward drug and/or alcohol addiction.Her perceptions are astute and her sensibility is so rich and sane no calculation could violate it.The personal essay was invented so that writers like Fadiman could practice it.” —Sven Birkerts“Limpid, learned, perspicacious--and relentless.Finally, we should be sufficiently broadminded to understand that Dickens wrote before the advent of feminism. Close in my affections for favorite essay in this collection is “Mail,” wherein Fadiman describes her late initiation into e-mail. “Moving” aptly captures the lunacy of the real estate market, along with the attendant anxieties of leaving a long-term habitation.Coming as she did from a life without cars, VCRs, compact disc players, and cellular telephones, this was quite the luddite’s leap, one that many readers of a certain age will empathize with. “Underwater,” written about the drowning death of a young man named Gary Hall, ends the collection on a somber, watchful note, not out of keeping with the moment.