I was excited when I saw that Anne Fadiman had a new book, At Large and At Small. Several years ago I enjoyed Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader immensely. I thought that I had reviewed that book here on my blog, but I can not find it. Perhaps I reviewed it at the library instead. Whatever, it was a great read.
I was pleased when I finally got the new book to see how it physically resembled the older title. Both are undersized and have attractive woodcut illustrations on the cover. They look nice shelved together, which I am sure pleases the book-loving author. They are easy to carry around and read at lunch or in bed at night.
As I said in my little piece yesterday, Fadiman's new book is a collection of familiar essays, a literary form that she says is endangered. This type of essay blends qualities of the critical essay with the personal essay. Most readers will not bother thinking about such distinctions, but will instead just enjoy her reflective writing. I most enjoyed her essay "Ice Cream" in which she mixes the history of the dessert with her personal experiences and thoughts. I laughed when she suggested that eighteenth century physician Filippo Baldini, who wrote about the benefits of eating Italian ices, might write her a prescription for Ben & Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk. (I might need a prescription for B&J Cherry Garcia.)
As in Ex Libris, loving books comes up again, as does living in New York. Fadiman also reveals her outdoor experiences, first as a child who collected insects and later as a guide for the rugged National Outdoor Leadership School, which she says was much tougher than Outward Bound. Every essay pleased me, except "Coffee," but my dislike of the drink is more at fault than her writing.
Not many libraries in my area have added the title yet. Perhaps my writing about it two days in a row will help. It is a charming, lively, entertaining book.
Fadiman, Anne. At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. ISBN 9780374106622.