At Large and At Small, cover

Anne Fadiman clearly loves language and expresses that love in this collection of essays - a neglected literary form even as it meets the need of today's time poor reader.

Confessions of a Literary Hedonist. Twelve Essays

In the Preface to At Large and At Small Anne Fadiman explains: “Today’s readers encounter plenty of critical essays (more brain than heart) and plenty of personal – very personal – essays (more heart than brain) but not many familiar essays (equal measures of both).” Her essays definitely fall in to the last category being of both brain and heart.

Relaxed and Companionable Reading Matter

The familiar essayist, she suggests, does not speak to many readers but to one – as if sat comfortably by the fire for a long evening of conversation with a favourite stimulant to hand. These essays then are there to provide a companionable diversion.

This is part of the author’s contribution to support a literary form which she loves. Why it should be so under-valued is strange when so many readers are time poor and have little time to do full justice to more substantial literary volumes. An essay can be read in any quiet moment, over a coffee, whilst commuting and, when as well written as these, will transport the reader away from the work-a-day world for a short while.

Wide Ranging Literary Exploration of the Everyday

The topics covered by these essays range from the everyday to the highly literary but all are thoughtful and beautifully structured. The book title itself is meant to suggest that her interests are wide ranging but her focus is on the detail and it would be difficult to argue that she had not succeeded with these pieces.

The topics covered are wide ranging. Some are enthusiasms shared with her brother , Kim - Emperor of Ice Cream, such as Collecting Nature, which they grew out of and Ice Cream which they most certainly have not given up. Kim's Coffee Kahlua ice cream recipe is an interesting aside but I am not giving the secret away here! There are other indulgences or habits for example Coffee or the pleasure and challenges of being a Night Owl.

There are literary related enthusiasms too, another essayist Charles Lamb, in the Unfuzzy Lamb, Coleridge the Runaway and Procrustes and the Culture Wars. Others are personal and everyday but all cover both the psychology and even science in a lucid and entertaining way.

A bald list of titles would then not do justice to the range of Anne Fadiman’s interests and her ability to draw the reader into her world. Even if the title does not immediately appeal Anne Fridman’s use of language will ensnare the reader. That other writers could make the banal and the obscure so interesting and present it with such clarity of thought and literary prowess.

If readers love language they will be hard pressed to avoid being attracted to Fadimans’s enthusiasms and follow up by revisiting Lamb, Coleridge and even the classics; such is the strength of the writing in these essays.

Share the Author's Love of the English Language

The language is rich and well crafted and the essays are of a length that can be read in those short breaks over a coffee, or as Fadiman suggests, something stronger. At Large and At Small will give pleasure to the lover of language and literature even, especially, when discovered in those all too rare quiet moments.

These essays flow gently with a quiet enthusiasm for language and the form feels conversational because each piece could easily be part of companionable moments with the reader on a winter’s evening by the fire or a summer night under the stars.

Take Time for Oneself to Read This Book of Essays

The would-be reader should aim to create that mood. Switch off the television or, perhaps better still, steal a little personal time and find a quiet corner in a favourite coffee shop to dip into this book whenever the opportunity can be created. The pressures of the world and work will disappear during that slow coffee and the reader will resurface refreshed and perhaps just a little bit wiser.

At Large and At Small (2008, ISBN: 978-0-141-03399-0) by Anne Fadiman is published by Penguin in paperback.


First appeared on Suite101


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