To Anne Fadiman: J'adore

Have you ever owned the perfect dress? I did once. I wore it for a piano recital when I was 11 years old and still as willowy as ... well ... as a willow branch. Thin, flexible, straight up and down, and tall.

This dress had a toile sort of print on it. Burgundy floral pattern on a cream background. The seams ran from the floor to the shoulder, and at the bodice, the seams were bordered by burgundy grosgrain ribbon that I tied in the back. In that dress, I felt as perfectly clothed as if the thing had grown from my own flesh, and I was as happy as a storybook princess.

The dress fit because it was made for me. My mom made it - she and I together made most of my dresses back then - back before I was old enough to realize that the ordinary, common sewing of clothing was a creative work of textile sculpture. That was a beautiful dress.

The perfect happiness of wearing that perfect dress, made to perfectly fit me in colors that suited me, feeling it sweep against my ankles when I walked, knowing it was hemmed to skim the floor ... that is how I feel when I read Anne Fadiman's writing. Her essays are so rich (her vocabulary!! she must have a whole thesaurus in her head), and soothing to the inner ear, and sudden-laugh-out-loud funny, and deeply moving that I will want to read them over and over throughout my life. I plan to keep a small Anne Fadiman library of books (she needs to write lots more!) by my bedside, and on any day when I go to my bed all churned up and rubbed the wrong way, my failsafe remedy will be to read a bit from one of these slim little volumes of familiar essays.

Too much? You think that recommendation is too effusive? Well, I scoff at your scorn. And I offer proof. Here is a passage:
"...[T]o swoop your net through the air and see something fluttering inside; to snatch that bit of life from the rich chaos of nature into your own comparatively lackluster world, which it instantly brightened and enlarged; to look it up in Klots and name it and know it — well, after you did that a few times, it was hard to muster much enthusiasm for Parcheesi."
That is from the interview at Powells.com. It is a passage from At Large and At Small. She and her brother were avid (the word isn't quite obsessive enough for what they did) bug collectors when they were children. She begins the chapter "The Joy of Sesquipedalians" in Ex Libris like this:
"When my brother, Kim, and I were children, our father used to tell us stories about a bookworm named Wally. Wally, a squiggly little vermicule with a red baseball cap, didn't merely like books. He ate them. The monosyllables he found in most children's books failed to satisfy his voracious appetite, so he turned instead to the dictionary, which offered a richer bill of fare. In Wally the Wordworm, a chronicle of some of our hero's lexicographic adventures that my father wrote when I was eleven, Wally savored such high-calorie morsels as syzygy, ptarmigan - which tasted pterrible at first, until he threw away the p - and sesquipedalian, which looks as if it means "long word" and in fact, does."

See? She's pure deliciousness, she is. I adore her.

1 comment:

Suzanne Temple said...

Sounds like what I've been needing to read. I just ordered two of her books, thanks for the recommendation.