Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mini Reviews: Elsewhere and Ex Libris

Good Saturday morning everyone! Thanks to the recent read-a-thon and all the pregnancy happenings and the birthday goings-on, I actually still have a backlog of books that need to be reviewed. It's a shrinking backlog, but this rarely ever happens as I don't read fast enough to have the reviews stack up. It's kind of a nice feeling; one that I'm going to obliterate right now as I review my final read-a-thon leftovers.

Anne Fadiman's essays, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, have been on my wishlist for years. My old library didn't have a copy, so I was tickled to find that my new one does! *kisses the feet of the new library*

It's a slim little book as most of you probably know. I feel like I'm the last book-nerd on earth to get hold of this one. It's a rare thing that I dislike a book about books, though it does happen on occasion. Happily, I sucked this one down without much problem. Powell's has a succinct overview:

Anne Fadiman is — by her own admission — the sort of person who learned about sex from her father's copy of Fanny Hill, whose husband buys her 19 pounds of dusty books for her birthday, and who once found herself poring over her roommate's 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only written material in the apartment that she had not read at least twice.

This review may be misleading in its squattiness. I found a TON of stuff in the book that I wanted to remember. Quotes I liked, long passages of bookish worship that need to live in my journal. Alas, I had to return it to the library in a fit of post-read-a-thon purging to keep from accumulating a mountain of library fines. I marked passages in pencil, so I can only hope to find them there when I recheck the book to snatch out all the good bits I loved.

On the other side of the coin, Fadiman is wicked smart (not that it's a bad thing), but I found her pretentious and annoying in spots, though my love of her bookish nature won out in the end.

My final book for the read-a-thon was probably my very favorite. I've only read one other Gabrielle Zevin novel, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, also a previous read-a-thon undertaking. While I enjoyed Amnesiac, I LOVED Elsewhere.

In this deilghtful novel death is a begining, a new start. Liz is killed in a hit a run accident and her 'life' takes a very unexpected turn. At nearly sixteen she knows she will never get married, never have children, and perhaps never fall in love. But in "Elsewhere" all things carry on almost as they did on earth except that the inhabitants get younger, dogs and humans can communicate (at last) new relationships are formed and old ones sadly interrupted on earth are renewed.

It's hard to explain what I like about Zevin's writing so much. It's just so...inviting! It's very easy to sink into her stories and her characters are sustainably quirky. I enjoyed her take on "heaven" after death, and I was happy that a main character--gone far too young--still had a chance to mature emotionally in the afterlife as she got younger and approached a rebirth.

Maybe the best way to describe Gabrielle Zevin's novels is vivid. Vivid characters, shiny details, and wonderful premises. I think I only have one of her books left: Margarettown. I can't wait to read it, but I wish she'd hurry up and write more!

And as I'm looking at her website: I see that she has a new novel for adults, The Hole We're In, coming out in March 2010. Hurray!


  1. Ooh, Elsewhere sounds like a book I'd love. Thanks for the review.

  2. "Fadiman is wicked smart (not that it's a bad thing), but I found her pretentious and annoying in spots, though my love of her bookish nature won out in the end."

    Yup. That was pretty much exactly what I thought, too. :-)


  3. I loved Ex Libris, and I liked Anne Fadiman's voice. Would have been terrified to sit at her childhood dinner table, though...

  4. I loved Elsewhere. It's one of those books that sticks with you. I read it maybe 3 years ago and I still think about it frequently. I'm almost afraid to read anything else by Zevin in case it doesn't measure up!

  5. I've never heard of Ex Libris (believe it or not) but it sounds like the kind of book I would enjoy reading.

  6. I love that you marked things up for when you recheck the book - shh don't tell the librarian ;)

  7. I loved her bookish nature, too! I keep meaning to read Elsewhere, but I haven't got around to it yet.

  8. "Fadiman is wicked smart (not that it's a bad thing), but I found her pretentious and annoying in spots, though my love of her bookish nature won out in the end."


    Have you read The Yellow Lighted Bookshop? Less pretentious but equally good (imo).

  9. Kathy, I think you'd love it, too! Enjoy.

    Lezlie, great minds....

    ds, no kidding! Talk about intimidating. lol

    Tammy, I know the feeling. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac was very engaging, though it did not live up to Elsewhere. It's still worth a read, though.

    Cool, Kathleen! A new book about books for you. It's very enjoyable. Lots of keepworhthy passages to write down.

    Jodie, with that one, I just couldn't help myself. And it was pencil--very light pencil--so I didn't feel *so* bad. hehe

    Kailana, bump it up! It hooked me so thoroughly, I read it in only a few hours.

    Softdrink, I haven't! You know, I hear about that one all the time (though less lately than usual). Adding it to my library list now.

  10. I have to agree with you about Fadiman. I enjoyed most of the book, but there was something a bit pretentious (or elitist) that came through as I read. Overall, I enjoyed it, but wouldn't say I loved it. And, I agree with Softdrink. The Yellow Lighted Bookshop is a wonderful book. Having worked in a few bookstores, this one was so much fun to curl up with. I could easily relate to several of his anecdotes and look forward to reading it again (perhaps when I'm no longer a bookseller and feeling nostalgic).

    I'm glad to hear you loved Elsewhere. I've had it on my list for at least 4 years. Seems to me I first heard about it over at OTPS. Maybe Heather or Linda H. raved about it, but one way or another it's been on my radar for far too long. Guess I could get it next month when we have our employee appreciate sale, right? :)


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