Non-fiction

At Large and At Small – Anne Fadiman – 8/10

“In the fall of 1998 I finally gave in and signed up for e-mail. I had resisted for a long time. My husband and I were proud of our retrograde status. Not only did we lack a modem, but we didn’t own a car, a microwave, a Cuisinart, an electric can opener, a CD player, or a cell phone. It’s hard to give up that sort of backward image. I worried that our friends wouldn’t have enough to make fun of.”

at large and at small

Anne Fadiman, specialist in the personal essay, turns her hand to a number of large and philosophical topics (“at large”) and more mundane themes (“at small”). This short book of essays, each about 10 pages, is full of nuggets of well-expressed thoughts.

I like Ms Fadiman. Were we to meet in real life, I think we’d get on pretty well. Especially given her thoughts on coffee, ice cream, and morning larks v night owls (I’m the former, she’s the latter, but I like her considerations about how the two co-exist).

“I recently calculated… that had I eaten no ice cream since the age of eighteen, I would currently weigh -416 pounds. I might be lighter than air, but I would be miserable… Now, under the watchful eye of a husband so virtuous that he actually prefers low-fat frozen yogurt, I go through the motions of scooping a modest hemisphere of ice cream into a small bowl, but we both know that during the course of the evening I will simply shuttle to and from the freezer until the entirety of the pint has been transferred from carton to bowl to me.”

Fadiman ruthlessly brings her family and spouse into these essays, which makes them all the more approachable and personable. I like hearing that her husband is a lark and the funny stories arising from the mismatch (and how they deal with it). The family occupation, mentioned in a previous Fadiman essay collection, of finding typos and bad translations on menus, rung very true with me.

She’s a very clever author too, with a talent for finding the funny quote in her source material. This from an essay about Charles & Mary Lamb (yes, those Shakespeare Lambs):

“My life has been somewhat diversified of late. The 6 weeks that finished last year and began this, your very humble servant spent very agreeably in a mad house at Hoxton. I am got somewhat rational now, & don’t bite anyone.”

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but if there were more essays like this, I’d read them. Maybe this is why I like blogs so much?

Additional info

Copy from Bookmooch, some time ago, I think.
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 220 pages (hardback)
Order At Large and At Small from Amazon* or Foyles* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting
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5 thoughts on “At Large and At Small – Anne Fadiman – 8/10”

  1. I have read these essays, but I need to revisit. Yes, blog posts have somewhat replaced the essay these days. I wonder how that has changed the form?

    I hope you have a very merry Christmas, Yvann.

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