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Essayist Fadiman Revives Familiar Literary Art

Whether she is exploring a medical culture clash in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, or negotiating the fraught terrain of merging her books with her husband's in Ex Libris, author Anne Fadiman clearly has a big crush on the English language.

She also has a big crush on Romantic-era essayist Charles Lamb, which is evident in her new book, a collection of familiar essays called At Large and At Small.

The familiar essay, Fadiman tells Rebecca Roberts, is a subset of the personal essay – but not as personal as the personal essay familiar to 21st-century readers.

In the early 19th century, writers such as Lamb and William Hazlett wrote about themselves, but at the same time about a subject that they knew their readers knew, too. Among Lamb's topics, for instance, were tailors, drunkards and annoying relatives.

"The hallmark of the familiar essay is that it is autobiographical, but also about the world," Fadiman says.

Fadiman, who writes about everything from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to ice cream, shares her thoughts on why it was so enjoyable to pen a familiar essay about coffee, blogging as a literary genre and why many of her readers think of her as being a good friend.

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