Tuesday, June 8, 2010

At Large and At Small

by Anne Fadiman
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.

In the Preface, Anne Fadiman quotes her father's regret that the familiar essay is dying, and declares her intention of this book to be her contribution to continuing the genre. She defines the familiar essay as one that includes both the personal (the "at small" of her title) and the general ("at large"). Each of the dozen essays in this collection also include the large and small in terms of topic, ranging from ice cream to Samuel Coleridge, as well as exhibiting Fadiman's broad knowledge base in literature and vocabulary.

One of my favorite essays was "Procrustes and the Culture Wars." Not only was it a topic that I was interested in - the culture wars as seen through four questions regarding one's interpretation of capital-L Literature - but also my personal response in reading was pondering what my own response might be, what my own essay on the topic might be like. Even when I disagreed with her points, the essay was thought-provoking, smart, and witty.

One of the greatest strengths of this collection is Fadiman's ability to make disparate subject matter interesting, forcing me as a reader to only read one or two essays at a time, because I wanted to fully absorb what she was saying and think about the subject, rather than moving on quickly to something else as I could have done. Until now, I had only read Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, her collection of essays on books and reading which is one of my all-time favorites, but this collection has convinced me to try more of her titles.

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