At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays
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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.
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. At Large and At Small is a brilliant and delightful collection of essays that harkens a revival of a long-cherished genre.
the Otter flows.” Coleridge spent a stormy night on the riverbank, shivering with cold and fright but reflecting “ at the same time with inward & gloomy satisfaction, how miserable my Mother must be!” Dozens of villagers combed the churchyard, scoured the streets, dragged the ponds and the millrace. The fugitive awoke at 5:00 a.m., too chilled to move. “I saw the Shepherds & Workmen at a distance—& cryed but so faintly, that it was impossible to hear me 30 yards off—and there I might have lain &
on the counters. No one could toast, blend, or make coffee in this kitchen; it was apparently owned by people who had been born without digestive tracts. This met with Paolo’s approval. The problem was the family photographs posted with magnets on the refrigerator. “No personal effects,” he explained, using a phrase I had heard only on television detective shows, describing corpses that had been robbed before they were murdered. We banished the animals to Henry’s bedroom, expunged our personal
to convince ourselves that even though anti-Muslim protesters marching near a mosque in Bridgeview, Illinois, had waved flags and chanted “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!,” we could choose another meaning in Whately, Massachusetts: the one a Chicago flag committee had in mind in 1895 when it called the Stars and Stripes “our greater self.” I had not looked closely at our flag when we raised it, so I decided to take it down one day to see whether it was made of cotton or silk. It was a raw afternoon in early
be enjoyed. If you knew what you were doing, you could have a “bully time” up there. His favorite temperature was −40°. (Temperatures below −50° were manageable but not quite so bully, since they required you to breathe through your mouth. “Your nose,” he observed, “is less likely to freeze when there is cold air merely outside of it instead of both inside and out.”) When he was above 66° north latitude, he insisted that his spirits were jollier, his appetite keener, and his wavy blond hair
sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink. Could that passage have been written on decaf? Balzac’s coffeepot is displayed at 47 rue Raynouard in Paris, where he lived for much of his miserable last decade, writing La Cousine Bette and Le Cousin Pons, losing his health, and escaping bill collectors through a secret door. My friend Adam (who likes his espresso strong but with sugar) visited the house a few years ago. “The coffeepot is red