It’s the birthday of essayist and journalist Anne Fadiman (books by this author), born in New York City (1953). She’s best known as the author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (1997), which is about the culture clash between a Hmong family, whose daughter has epilepsy, and the American medical establishment. She started the project as an assignment for The New Yorker, but she turned it into a book when the original assignment was killed. The book won a National Book Critics Circle Award. She also wrote a best-selling essay collection, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (1998).
Fadiman says her journalistic tendencies come from her mother, Annalee Jacoby, who was the first female war correspondent in China. Fadiman’s father, Clifton Fadiman, was an essayist, a radio host, and a book lover — her childhood home boasted shelves full of thousands of books — and Fadiman credits him for inspiring Ex Libris.
Fadiman’s literary heroes include John McPhee, Joan Didion, Ian Frazier, and Gay Talese. She has a stack of books by her bedside at all times, and prefers media you can hold in your hand to anything you can read on a computer or e-reader. She says, “Even when e-books are perfected, as they surely will be, it will be like being in bed with a very well-made robot rather than a warm, soft, human being whom you love.” And she thinks a newspaper is just better for society than the news you get online, or over email. “People who read a paper paper have to flip through a lot of international news before they get to what they think they’re interested in. They at least glance at the headlines, and maybe they read a few stories they hadn’t expected to. More and more, online news sources will give them only what they wanted in advance. […] Custom filters are going to make Americans even more ignorant than they already are, which is plenty.”