Anne Fadiman — Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader

Comme Anne Fadiman, j’aime acheter des livres de seconde ou douzième main. Avant de rejoindre ma bibliothèque, cette copie d’Ex Libris est passée par les bancs de l’université d’Edinburgh. J’imagine, d’après l’étiquette qui s’accroche obstinément à la quatrième de couverture, une étudiante en littérature moderne braver la pluie pour dénicher cette compilation d’essais dans les rayons encombrés de la librairie James Thin de South Bridge. Au tournant du siècle, savait-elle que la boutique de quartier appartenait à un groupe chancelant ? Deux ans plus tard, la librairie de South Bridge était reprise par Blackwell’s, le pionnier anglais de la vente de livres en ligne. La lecture de cette lettre d’amour aux livres m’a d’autant plus touché qu’avant les « évènements », j’avais prévu de passer quelques jours… à Edinburgh.

Notes

p. 4-5 :

After five years of marriage and a child, George and I finally resolved that we were ready for the more profound intimacy of library consolidation. It was unclear, however, how we were to fund a meeting point between his English-garden approach and my French-garden one. At least in the short run, I prevailed, on the theory that he could find his books if they were arranged like mine but I could never find mine if they were arranged like his. We agreed to sort by topic — History, Psychology, Nature, Travel, and so on. Literature would be subdivided by nationality. (If George found this plan excessively finicky, at least he granted that it was a damn sight better than the system some friends of ours had told us about. Some friends of theirs had rented their house for several months to an interior decorator. When they returned, they discovered that their entire library had been reorganized by color and size. Shortly thereafter, the decorator met with a fatal automobile accident. I confess that when this story was told, everyone around the dinner table concurred that justice had been served.

p. 19 :

Americans admire success. Englishmen admire heroic failure.

p. 63 :

What I am saying here is very simple: Changing our language to make men and women equal has a cost. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. High prices are attached to many things that are on the whole worth doing. It does mean that the loss of our heedless grace should be mourned, and then accepted with all the civility we can muster, by every writer worth his’er salt.

Délicieux. Incroyablement bourgeois, mais délicieux, p. 66-67 :

I myself owned up to a dark chapter from my own hubristic youth. When I was twenty-three, I had discovered fifteen misprints in the Pyramid paperback edition of Nabokov’s Speak, Memory. (Samples: page 25, paragraph 2, line 13: “thundercould” for “thundercloud”; page 99, paragraph 1, line 28: “acytelene” for “acetylene”; page 147, paragraph 1, line 27: “rocco” for “rococo.”) Nabokov had always struck me as a bit of a fusspot — had he not once observed, “In reading, one should notice and fondle details”? — so I wrote him a letter listing the errors I had noticed and fondled, on the pretext that he could incorporate the corrections in the next edition. I deserved a kick in the pants for my meddlesomeness, but lo and behold, three weeks later a fragile blue aerogramme with a Swiss postmark arrived from the Montreux-Palace Hotel. In it, Véra Evseevna Nabokov — she who had detonated, on page 219 of the book in question, Nabokov’s “slow-motion, silent explosion of love” — thanked me on her husband’s behalf for my “thoughtfulness.” Her typing was faint by 100 percent error-free.

De l’encre de Chine dans un Parker 51, après un chapitre sur les erreurs, c’est plutôt cocasse, p. 72 :

My pen was a gift from my fifth-grade boyfriend […] Until I was in college, I reserved it for poetry — prose would have profaned it — and later, during my beginning years as a writer, I used it for every first draft. Like a dog that needs to circle three times before settling down to sleep, I could not write an opening sentence until I had uncapped the bottle of India ink, inhaled the narcotic fragrance of carbon soot and resin, dipped the nib, and pumped the plunger — one, two, three, four, five.

p. 76-77 :

These days I use a computer. I am using it to write this essay, even though I should really be using a hand-whittled crow’s feather. It is, as many writers have noted, unparalleled for revision. Because it makes resequencing so easy, it enables me to recognize structural flaws that once would have been invisible, blocked from my imagination by the effort and violence of the old cut-and-paste method. The Delete key is a boon to any writer who hates a cluttered page, although it makes the word processor the least eternal of all writing instruments. Cross-outs are usually consigned to oblivion. (I prefer to move the rejected phrases to the bottom of the screen, where they are continuously pushed ahead of the text-in-progress like an ever-burgeoning mound of snow before a plow.

I am surprised by how much I like my computer, but I will never love it. I have used several; the seem indistinguishable. When you’ve seen one pixel you’ve seen them all. As a reader, I often feel I can detect the spoor of word processing in books, particularly long ones. The writers, no longer slowed by having to change their typewriter ribbons, fill their fountain pens, or sharpen their quills, tend to be prolix. I am especially suspicious of word-processed letters, which smell of boilerplate. Word-processed addresses are even worse. What a pleasure it is to open one’s mailbox and find a letter from an old friend whose handwriting on the envelope is as instantly recognizable as a face!

p. 102 :

There must be writers whose parents owned no books, and who were taken under the wing of a neighbor or teacher or librarian, but I have never met one. My daughter is seven, and some of the other second-grade parents complain that their children don’t read for pleasure. When I visit their homes, the children’s room are crammed with expensive books, but the parents’ rooms are empty. Those children do not see their parents reading, as I did every day of my childhood. By contrast, when I walk into an apartment with books on the shelves, books on the bedside tables, books on the floor, and books on the toilet tank, then I know what I would see if I opened the door that says PRIVATE – GROWNUPS KEEP OUT: a child sprawled on the bed, reading.