Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman *****
I was having a bit of a rereading kick during September (largely due to the fact that my TBR shelves were almost exhausted), and decided to pick up Anne Fadiman’s charming little volume of essays, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader. Throughout, Fadiman’s scope is broad. Whilst all of the essays are about books (no sh*t, Sherlock…), she writes about such things as the value of books as objects and how we treat them, to the art of writing sonnets, a skill she feels she has never quite mastered.
The entire collection is lively, and when read (or reread) from cover to cover, it feels like a breath of fresh air. Fadiman’s writing is intelligent and appreciative. I very much admire the chronological placement of essays too; with the exception of the final two, which have been juxtaposed to improve the flow of the piece, all are presented in the order in which Fadiman wrote them. The chapter about proofreading particularly tickled me, having worked as one myself. Ex Libris is an absolutely lovely book, which makes me feel privileged to be a bookworm.
Travels With My Aunt by Graham Greene ****
I am a very lucky human. My mother procured the gorgeous Folio Society edition of Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt in a raffle, actually swapping her original prize with this one just for me. (Three cheers for Mums!) I have wanted to read it for ages, despite not being that well acquainted with Greene’s work. (I mean, I’ve read Our Man in Havana, and watched Brighton Rock, but that’s about it). For some reason, I was under the impression that Travels With My Aunt was a non-fiction account, with semi-autobiographical undertones. Apparently not; it turns out that this is a novel. I have no idea what formed my misapprehension. Any ideas, readers?
Travels With My Aunt is a romp. It’s kinda like Jeeves and Wooster, without the butler and with a wild old lady thrown into the mix. Despite the title’s emphasis of travelling, the novel definitely feels more like a character- rather than a plot-driven piece. Our narrator, Henry, and his Aunt Augusta, are the stars of the show, if you like; the latter certainly more so. Henry is a retired bank manager, and seems to have donned the stereotypical shroud of being a bit dull, and a bit of a goody two-shoes. No matter. He just makes Aunt Augusta seem more vibrant, surprising, and larger than life, which is hardly a bad thing when faced with an eccentric.
Travels With My Aunt is an entertaining and unpredictable read, which does feature some travels. My only qualm was that I found the character of pot-smoking (and smuggling) Wordsworth rather ridiculous, and his accent overexaggerated to the extreme. The ending was most peculiar too, but perhaps that’s a trademark of Greene’s novels. Who knows? Well, hopefully me when I read more of them…