Tuesday, 7 July 2009


Just before coming to France, I ordered Anne Fadiman's two books of essays, Ex Libris and At large and At Small, the confessions of a Literary Hedonist, and what delightful reading they turned out to be. I ordered them through The Book Depository, a speedy, efficient service. How could I as a librarian resist a title called Ex Libris? I found the essay on how the author and her husband combined their respective book collections intriguing, as my husband and I have never even thought about doing this - our collections are too dissimilar, and we have no room in our house big enough to house all the books we collectively own in one place. Instead, they are scattered throughout the house, in collections grouped by subject - my husbands books on clock and watch making and collecting in his workroom, my books on literature, fiction, and history on one set of bookshelves and books on crafts and sewing on another bookcase in my work area. My collection of cookbooks is elsewhere, but not in the kitchen, as it's too big a collection and the kitchen too small to house it. We seem able to find what we want most of the time, anyway. Here in France in a barely furnished house, we have just bought one small bookcase/ cupboard, adequate for the small collection of books we currently have here, mostly English novels imported by me, but a few in French acording to our interests.
I found Anne Fadiman's essays really good reading. I loved the range of subjects, including ice-cream and coffee ( both of which I also adore - my first coffee maker was a percolater that sat on the hot plate or gas ring of whatever digs I was living in as a student in Manchester - it made strong coffee) I've tried every variety of coffee maker, but seem to have settled for a filter, both here in France and at home, although I also have a cafetiere, a Moka espresso and a old wedding present of a rather posh Russell Hobbs percolater, unused for about twenty-five years. I must admit I've neve seriously considered using liquid nitrogen to make ice cream - I use a rather primitive electric churn machine, with bowls which need to be put in the freezer overnight to freeze them before you can even get round to making the ice cream or sorbet you have set your mind on making. A bit tedious but reasonably effective. It only makes tiny quantities, though, so OK for small households, useless for a crowd. This is the joy of Anne Fadiman's writing - it leads you into an examination of how, what, where, and why you live the way you do, think the way you think, and possibly consider a better way.
One thought that occured to me was the connexion with the French verb essayer, which means "to try". Almost too obvious to mention, really.

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