In At Large and At Small, essayist Anne Fadiman (she of Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader fame, one of my favorite books about reading) writes a dozen exceptionally well-written essays on such disparate subjects as coffee, mail and a biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Allow me to allow her to speak for herself.
In “A Piece of Cotton,” an essay about the American flag, Fadiman writes, “In the weeks after September 11, I saw for the first time that the flag…has multiple meanings….The red, white, and blue turban worn by the Sikh umbrella vendor a friend walked past in Dupont Circle, not far from the White House, meant Looking like someone and thinking like him are not the same thing….The flags brandished by two cowboy-hatted singers at a country fair we attended on the day the first bombs fell on Afghanistan meant Let’s kill the bastards….The flag in our front yard meant We are sad. And we’re sorry we’ve never done this before.”
In “Moving” she writes, “We move more than anyone else. In a typical year, one in five Americans relocates, whereas in Japan it’s one in ten, in Britain one in twelve, and in Germany one in twenty-five….(Traveling is always thought to be more enjoyable than moving: we envy foreign correspondents but pity army brats).”
In “Procrustes and the Culture Wars” she writes, “If I had to step into a polling booth and vote on Homer’s sexual politics, I’d pull the NO lever strenuously. I am therefore very glad that the Odyssey is a poem, not a referendum.” I read the Iliad last year for the first time since college. Me, too.
I skipped over the one on catching butterflies but the rest of these essays are engaging and informative. A delightful read.