Monday, December 29, 2003


I am a meta-reader.

That's what my geek boyfriend called me, and I agreed in a heart-beat, without tripping mentally over the "meta" part, which proves me a geek, too.

But seriously, most of the books I've been reading recently are about books or about reading or, in one case, a history of book shelves (The Book of the Bookshelf - wonderful title). I think that given my love of books, given that books have defined me as a person, I want to understand their evolution better.

The classic meta-book for me is Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris. I bought this book on a whim, 5 years ago. Careful as I am with books, the cover on this one is wearing visibly, and I think there’s a diet Coke smudge on the back. I have read it more times than I can count. This was the first book I read that made me feel part of the quiet community of readers. Reading may be mostly solitary by nature, but there are people I can relate to on sheer love of reading and books.

In a nutshell, the book is a collection of essays about books. She talks about growing up surrounded by books, using books as literal building blocks when she was playing as a child. She talks about the glory of the doomed English explorers in Antarctica, who used dog sleds to carry their precious supplies of books and food, as well as pounds and pounds of fossils in hard rock. Had they abandonded the extra weight, they might have made it to safety in time. They chose not to.

The other day, I went into a newsstand that was like any other newsstand – it was coated with layers of magazines on all the walls, dripping with folded pages and subscription cards that occasionally floated to the ground in paper puddles. I was looking for something to read.

I work as an IT management consultant. The book I brought to read on the Metro ride to work was Paradise Lost, and I was reading it five pages per Metro ride, then at lunch. But that day I wanted something lighter.

The covers of all the magazines vied for my attention, and I picked up The American Scholar to look at the names on the cover and in the contents and to feel the paper in my hands. I recognized some of the names, Mark Salzman, Nicholson Baker, and Henry Petroski (he wrote The Book of the Bookshelf). The essay titles all looked interesting. The paper and ink smelled as like the magic of books. I wavered.

I looked at the title page and saw Anne Fadiman's name. I closed the magazine, tucked it under my arm, and dug out my wallet.

I am in the middle of Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop, about a woman who lives in a town with no bookshop. It's 1959, the setting is a seaside town near London. She wants to open a bookshop, and she has already bought the building. I will let you know how it goes.

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