I have had a restorative day off (I can see it's going to be the most blog posts ever, what's up with that?!?), a run in the morning and a swim just now and in the afternoon I finished reading Anne Fadiman's At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays.
Fadiman is an all-out wonderful writer--I remember reading The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down not long after it came out and just being jaw-droppingly tongue-slatheringly gobsmacked by it, it's the sort of book that renders you almost speechless. Ex Libris is also wonderfully appealing, and in fact I've bought multiple copies of both these books over the years because the best and truest thing I can say about them is that they make you desperately want to share them with others.
The new collection is also a delight--at the back of my head I was arguing with myself over who of the three or four obvious candidates I am going to pass this copy on to when I'm done, but in fact I really just will need to buy another copy or two for various people and perhaps xerox an essay here and there also. A couple of the essays aren't as strong (the ones on flags and the culture wars, for instance, perhaps bear too many traces of the moments in which they were respectively composed), and I know a bit too much about Lamb and Coleridge (though these essays are excellent, it is more a reflection on me than on anything about the writing) to find those pieces really striking.
But the essays on childhood lepidoptery and the pleasures of getting mail are quite magical, "The Arctic Hedonist" (Colleen must read this one!) is absolutely brilliant and the two most amazing essays of all are a delightful pair: "Ice Cream" and "Coffee." My heart thrills more to coffee than to ice-cream, I am not actually a big ice-cream eater (though I have a soft spot for a chocolate-and-vanilla soft serve swirl in a cup, with rainbow sprinkles--I have about one of these a year and it is never quite as good as I think it will be), but really the ice-cream essay is the best of all. It ends with an anecdote (including recipe) about making ice cream with liquid nitrogen that's altogether excellent.
The great thing about these essays is not their topics but their style; Fadiman's sentences verge on being a little too fussy, too precise, and yet they are so absolutely perfect in their precision and fussiness (and so funny and dry, with a sense of humor even about their own fussiness and about the quirkiness that takes us in a single paragraph from the Hippocratic writings to the Ohio State University Department of Dairy Technology and the problem of ice cream abstinence) that I covet her style for myself, in true collector's vein. Her sense of words in particular is unparalleled, it is very striking: I can't think of anyone else who relishes them in quite this way, it is almost my favorite thing, this relishing of the language of expert knowledge rather independently of the things the words are meant to represent!