Finally, we should be sufficiently broadminded to understand that Dickens wrote before the advent of feminism. Close in my affections for favorite essay in this collection is “Mail,” wherein Fadiman describes her late initiation into e-mail. “Moving” aptly captures the lunacy of the real estate market, along with the attendant anxieties of leaving a long-term habitation.
Coming as she did from a life without cars, VCRs, compact disc players, and cellular telephones, this was quite the luddite’s leap, one that many readers of a certain age will empathize with. “Underwater,” written about the drowning death of a young man named Gary Hall, ends the collection on a somber, watchful note, not out of keeping with the moment.
Many of these essays were composed "under the influence" of the subject at hand.
Fadiman ingests a shocking amount of ice cream and divulges her passion for Häagen-Dazs Chocolate Chocolate Chip and her brother's homemade Liquid Nitrogen Kahlúa Coffee (recipe included); she sustains a terrific caffeine buzz while recounting Balzac's coffee addiction; and she stays up till dawn to write about being a night owl, examining the rhythms of our circadian clocks and sharing such insomnia cures as her father's nocturnal word games and Lewis Carroll's mathematical puzzles.
In At Large and At Small, Anne Fadiman returns to one of her favorite genres, the familiar essay—a beloved and hallowed literary tradition recognized for both its intellectual breadth and its miniaturist focus on everyday experiences.
With the combination of humor and erudition that has distinguished her as one of our finest essayists, Fadiman draws us into twelve of her personal obsessions: from her slightly sinister childhood enthusiasm for catching butterflies to her monumental crush on Charles Lamb, from her wistfulness for the days of letter-writing to the challenges and rewards of moving from the city to the country. Fadiman’s winding sentences are finely wrought; the adjective that comes to mind is the rather archaic “charming.” Quoting her father, the late Clifton Fadiman, she writes: ...great writers are not machines that produce, out of nothingness, of series of words that happen to be more perfect than other people’s words; they are flawed mortals, often imprudent and uncivil, who are so large (that’s what greatness is: size) that every part of them deserves to be understood. Along with her brother, Kim, young Anne joyously netted prey and carefully dropped them into jars, where the poor insects expired in a cloud of carbon tetrachloride. An exploration of the familiar essay, At Large variously examines lepidoptery, Charles Lamb, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, sleep, arctic exploration, flags, coffee and that most critical of substances, ice cream.Her perceptions are astute and her sensibility is so rich and sane no calculation could violate it.The personal essay was invented so that writers like Fadiman could practice it.” —Sven Birkerts“Limpid, learned, perspicacious--and relentless. Happily, At Large, if not always lighter, is certainly more amusing. Rushing toward an unhappy ending under duress is never a pleasant experience, but Spirit made it worthwhile.Who among us has not forgotten an attachment or sent, as she did, an x-rated email to her husband, only to realize she had the wrong e-mail address? At Large is a lovely read -- informative, amusing, wide-ranging. Whatever you read next needs to be especially fine, or it will pale considerably in comparison.It will be akin to eating frozen yogurt when you really want a pint of Häagen Daz chocolate.Fortunately, he has many fine qualities compensating for this grievous lack.Turning from her husband George, consumer of sorbets, Fadiman again finds an ally in Kim.