Essays of E.B. White By E.B. White


    Charlotte's Web by E.B. White is one my favorite books from childhood and thinking about the book continues to give me a warm feeling. He wrote for the magazine The New Yorker starting in 1927 where he met his wife who edited his work. Some of the witty and descriptive essays in this book appeared in different publications as well as the New Yorker. Reading this book is a pleasure and treat in every way. Charming book. Highly recommend. 384 Especially for Mr Forbush's Friends....
    Ok, wow. So many observations, some made eight decades ago, are still relevant. The very first, about how 'stuff' accumulates so that when one tries to move to a new home one has to take the time to review one's life, is gorgeous. (Good-Bye to Forty-Eighth Street) That whole first section, on farming, is a must-read for fans of Michael Perry. The tale of his trip to Alaska, as a callow youth in the early 20s, is memorable. There are some references to current events and notable figures no longer known, but they are minimal. More interesting are the current events that are still current, for example urban sprawl and pollution. Included is the staple of Freshman English, Once More to the Lake.

    From Unity: We cannot conceivably achieve [peace] merely by relaxing the tensions of sovereign nations; there is an unending supply of them.... You could relax every last tension tonight and wake tomorrow morning with all the makings of war, all the familiar promise of trouble. White goes on to explain very carefully why 'disarmament' is no solution. Very interesting.

    (Fascinating how the man wrote so well on so many different subjects. From experiencing a hurricane to reminiscing about The St. Nicholas League to writing a tribute to Don Marquis to political commentary as the above.)

    I want to investigate Thoughts Without Words and Finley Peter Dunne. 384 Keep in mind that usually I do not enjoy either essays or short stories, but here the writing is exceptional. It is this that makes all the difference.

    The essays cover many different topics, such as the art of writing, appreciation of life’s small delights, wildlife (animals, flowers, birds), books and authors such as The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis, Henry David Thoreau aand The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr., trips to Alaska and Florida, the tribulations of adolescence, Christmas holidays, disarmament, energy…….

    The very best are those essays where the topics covered although related also diverge - Adlai Stevenson, Truman, Eisenhower, religion, faith, dogs and politics; this one was entitled Bedfellows and was my very favorite!

    The book concludes with a concise biography of E.B. White and his wife, which I highly appreciated. It is worth picking up the book just for this. It is ten times better than Michael Sims’s The Story of Charlotte's Web: E.B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic.

    The audiobook narration by Malcolm Hillgartner is impeccable. Clear, easy to follow and read at a perfect speed. THIS is how I want all audiobooks to be read!

    I can tell you what the essays cover but it is how they are written that enchants. No, I wasn’t captivated by all of them, but most I would rate with three or four stars, and one or two are worthy of five stars. The book as a whole I enjoyed very, very much and thus am giving it four stars. The narration I have given five stars. 384 Like the majority of American liberal artists, I know E.B. White principally from his editorial work. The Elements of Style was the principal explicit force behind my own understanding of the sentence and the essay, and I assumed its writer would possess that bright cogency that tickles the alert reader into giggles.

    I also knew E.B. White as the author of books for children, and though it has been nearly two decades since I read Charlotte's Web, I remember vividly the story and the prematurely deep emotion it aroused.

    Lastly, I knew E.B. White was the resident essayist for years at the New Yorker, and I had read a piece or two of his during college and graduate writing programs, and found them—as I expected from the editor of the Elements of Style—to be refined and distinct, even if I believed they were too patricianly contented for my taste.

    Now, I've worked my way through this collection concurrently with David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and I couldn't think of a more illuminating contrast. Both artists reside within a tiny honored circle of American essayists. Both artists, per William Strunk's instruction, labor to omit needless words. Both artists ask that every word tell. But Wallace crams his sentences full of meaning, each written as though it would be his last and only, while E.B. White seems to let some sentences breathe the open air. What's more, Wallace often mercilessly whips his essay, even his day-to-day accounts, in pursuit of his philosophical rabbit. He is as methodical as the baseline tennis player of his teenage years, piling precise sentence on sentence, calculating and increasing the advantageous angles, till triumph is inevitable. E.B. White seems, by contrast, to be at times an amnesiac playing billiards with one hand: scattering the balls, then studying them, judging their position anew, and firing away.

    In his missives from Maine, for instance, White will digress into accounts on the weather, reports on egg production, measurements of snowfall and the tides, before meandering to his point. But when White finally finds the balls aligned to his liking, he strikes with such a devastatingly beautiful, caroming shot! Consider his essay, Death of a Pig, filled with mournful puns (such a thing is possible!), portraits of gruff veterinarians and sympathetic neighbors, explanations of his farm's terrain. It seems a sweet, orchard-smelling essay, but comes around to a gorgeous and devastating final sentence comparing the curious spirit of his daschund Fred and the haunting regret he, as a failed caretaker, feels at his pig's inescapable death: The grave in the woods is unmarked, but Fred can direct the mourner to it unerringly and with immense good will, and I know he and I shall often revisit it, singly and together, in seasons of reflection and despair, on flagless memorial days of our own choosing. Even pulled from context, the lovely pace and light, precise kiss of this sentence takes away your breath. Within the slow, sad, wandering story, it is devastatingly melancholic.

    Or, consider the lively and humorous essay on the 1939 World's Fair in Queens, NY, which pokes gentle fun at the antiseptic world of tomorrow. And at the end, the essay arrives the peculiar image of a couple of bare-breasted Amazon girls sitting in a robot automaton's giant rubber palm: a silly image, ripe for the simple, sly irony and gentle humanism that characterizes an essay filled with tots making long distance phone calls, cracks about the rainy weather. But White opts, in the last sentence, to just put aside the nibbles of soft irony and just take one voracious bite. And so, from nothing: Here was the Fair, all fairs, in pantomime; and here the strange mixed dream that made the Fair: the heroic man, bloodless and perfect and enormous, created in his own image, and in his hand (rubber, aseptic) the literal desire, the warm and living breast.

    And just one more, to really amaze you, the final two paragraphs of an essay ostensibly about Ford's discontinuation of the Model T line, the car of White's (and, in a sense, modern America's) youth:

    Springtime in the heyday of the Model T was a delirious season. Owning a car was still a major excitement, roads were wonderful and bad. The Fords were obviously conceived in madness: any car which was capable of going from forward into reverse without any perceptible mechanical hiatus was bound to be a mighty challenging thing to the human imagination. Boys used to veer them off the highway into a level pasture and run wild with them, as though they were cutting up with a girl....

    The days were golden, the nights were dim and strange. I still recall with trembling those loud, nocturnal crises when you drew up to a signpost and raced the engine so the lights would be bright enough to read destinations by. I have never been really planetary since. I suppose it's time to say good-bye. Farewell, my lovely!

    Well, what about that!
    384 Insightful and funny essays by a master craftsman. I took my time reading these bits of perception that might go unnoticed by us when running through our days. Some of the essays were politically outdated but still retain pearls of wisdom about human behavior. The essays about White’s dog, Fred, his summertimes at the lake, and sailing his boat were my favorites. I chuckled throughout the book, but the best came last in his essay titled, “Mr. Forbush’s Friends”. 384

    Selected by E.B. White himself, the essays in this volume span a lifetime of writing and a body of work without peer.  I have chosen the ones that have amused me in the rereading, he writes in the Foreword, alone with a few that seemed to have the odor of durability clinging to them. These essays are incomparable; this is a volume to treasure and savor at one's leisure. Essays of E.B. White

    There is really no way for a man to put his arms around a big house plant and still remain a gentleman.

    E.B. White’s name, along with Will Strunk’s, is now synonymous with good style. If that isn’t a compliment to a writer, I don’t know what is.

    My first encounter with the duo was in my high school English class of junior year. My teacher was old-fashioned enough to believe that we should learn how to use punctuation. This came as a shock, since none of her predecessors had spared so much as a moment on a semicolon. It was with bewilderment and wonder, then, that I opened up The Elements of Style and encountered this sentence: “The colon has more effect than the comma, less power to separate than the semicolon, and more formality than the dash.” How often is so much instruction packed into so few words?

    In college I picked up the habit of rereading Strunk and White at least once a year. Probably I should do so more often, since verbal profligacy—Strunk’s sworn enemy, the capital sin of writing—is something that I can’t seem to shake, no matter how often I try. One of the reasons I picked up this book was the hope that, by observing White at work, his example might serve where his precepts failed.

    With White, the style is the man; and any discussion of his works inevitably becomes an analysis of his prose. To begin with, White is not what I’d call a vocal writer. A vocal writer is one whose writing seems to come alive and speak, whose writing cannot be read in your own voice, only in the author’s own accent. White’s writing, while personable, charming, and full of feeling, does not leap from the page into your living room. It is writerly writing.

    His style is conversational, not aphoristic. His sentences are not pointed, his wit is not barbed, his lines are not militantly memorable. His writing is loose; it breathes like a cotton shirt; it is drafty like an old wooden cabin. You might say that his essays are a controlled ramble, a balancing act that looks like a casual stroll. They take their time. Like a scatterbrained errand boy, they pause in a thousand places for momentary rendezvous and covert dalliances before reaching their destinations.

    White seldom speaks in abstractions, and hardly makes an argument. His writing is held together not by the logic of ideas but by the tissue of memory. This is partly why the style is unfilterable from the content. There is no thesis to take away. He is not trying to make a point, but to communicate his perspective, to encapsulate a piece of his personality.

    White’s personality is delightful. Modest and gently humorous, he is animated by a curiosity for the little things that comprise his world. He can study a train schedule with avidity, he can spend hours gazing at a spider’s web, he can write poetry on the life-cycle of a pig. This is what makes him such a consummate essayist. In the humdrum facts and quotidian occurrences of life he hears music and meaning, and spiderlike weaves his own web to stitch them into a delicate structure:
    As I sat at table, gnawing away at a piece of pie, snow began falling. At first it was an almost imperceptible spitting from the gray sky, but it soon thickened and came driving in from the northeast. I watched it catch along the edge of the drive, powder the stone wall, and whiten the surface of the dark frozen pond, and I knew that all along the coast from Kittery on, the worst mistakes of men were being quietly erased, the lines of their industrial temples softened, and U.S. 1 crowned with a cold, inexpensive glory

    There is not much to be said against these essays, except what can be said against all stylists. Since what White says is less important than the way he says it, upon finishing the reader is left with nothing but echoes and aftertastes. Yet it is a delicious aftertaste, tart and tangy with a touch of smoke, and it whets my appetite for more. 384 All that I ever hope to say in books is that I love the world.

    E.B. White's love of the world is evident throughout these essays. So is his modesty, curiosity, gentleness, honesty and cleverness. I listened to the audio version which felt like having a beloved uncle/father/grandfather telling stories about the good old days. I adored some of the essays more than others but there was not one that was not priceless just because it was written by White in his inimitable style. Some of my favorite topics included his love of and nostalgia for NYC and it's unique denizens, rhythms and ways. Packing up his 8th and final apartment after having lived in NYC for 30 years was both humorous and poignant. His farm in a small town in Maine brings out much of his humor, sadness and fear whether he's discussing the death of a pig, a fire in his fireplace or the over-reporting of a hurricane. I loved reading about his life long love of the sea and sailing as well as taking his young son on his first camping trip on a lake in Maine which brought back so many memories of the very same trips he took with his own father that he often found himself wondering am I the father or the son now? The essay about a trip to Alaska in his youth on which he worked for his passage is priceless.

    White often speaks about my wife in loving tones. Katherine Angell was the first fiction editor for The New Yorker which is where they met. I met Katherine through her fabulous garden writing. She gardened in Maine at the farm where E.B. White makes appearances. The love and respect the two of them had for each other was evident and I was always curious to know more about him. So, it is really through Katherine that I became interested in her husband and not White's Elements of Style nor his children's books for which he is so famous. I'll bet you won't read that anywhere else.:))

    All of these essays taught me so much about this lovely man. I feel bereft having finished them but I know that there are more where these came from. Plus, I plan to buy this collection in print form so that I can read them over again whenever I like.

    Highly recommended. 384 The blurb says it all: “Widely read for his eloquence and wit, widely taught for his superb clarity, White remains one of the greatest essayists of this century. Some of the finest examples of contemporary, genuinely American prose.-- The Washington Post

    I have such fond memories of reading Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little to my children but this is my first experience with his essays. His writing is as charming, poignant, and as relevant today as it was when he first penned these words. Wise and funny, they lend themselves well to hearing the essays read aloud. The narrator of the audiobook was perfect. I have a copy of the paperback in my cart to purchase for my keeper shelf.

    This was a balm to my soul during a very sad time, a month when we lost both of our sweet Havanese dogs within weeks of each other. I found comfort in how lovingly E.B. White writes about his dogs and other animals. There’s only a handful of favorite authors that writes about the ordinary in an extraordinary way. EB White is now on my short list.

    Beautifully written and a complete pleasure. Thank you to my Goodreads friend Anne whose lovely review led me to this book. 384 “With so much that is disturbing our lives and clouding our future, beginning right here in my own little principality, with its private pools of energy, and extending outward to our unhappy land and our plundered planet, it is hard to foretell what is going to happen. I know one thing that has happened: the willow by the brook has slipped into her yellow dress, lending, along with the faded pink of the snow fences, a spot of color to the vast gray-and-white world. I know, too, that on some not too distant night, somewhere in pond or ditch or low place, a frog will awake, raise his voice in praise, and be joined by others. I will feel a whole lot better when I hear the frogs.”

    While these essays published in The New Yorker spanned a number of decades, my reading of them stretched over a period of months. Not because I didn’t enjoy them, but because they were a true delight and a much needed relief from the hatred, tension, and disappointments over the past year. Though most of these were written before I was born, they still strongly resonated. E.B. White, I thank you for sending me off to sleep on many a night with your beautiful words, your honesty and your humor. Thank you for pointing out the simple things that we too often take for granted in this modern, complex world. Thank you for making me forget for a time that so many people are at one another’s throats, for helping me remember that one can appreciate the world and everyone in it. We’ve all been given these treasures– the beauty of nature, the gift of words, and the ability to be thankful. Why is it so difficult for some to recognize these things? They are all too often squandered. I can’t help but think of Charlotte, her web, and Wilbur. Life lessons that children take to heart but are somehow forgotten by many when adulthood is reached.

    Some of my favorite essays included reminiscences of New York City, an adventurous trip by sea to Alaska, family camping trips to Maine, an elegy-like homage to the railroads, and White’s personal reflections on Thoreau’s Walden. Everywhere he went, he took notice of his surroundings, the natural world, and other people. The writing itself is exceptional and conversational. E.B White was a class act. I highly recommend this collection. Savor it little by little. Your heart might feel lighter, too.

    To me, living in the light means an honest attempt to discover the germ of common cause in a world of special cause, even against the almost insuperable odds of parochialism and national fervor, even in the face of dangers that always attend political growth.

    The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines. The island of Manhattan is without any doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose full meaning will always remain elusive.

    I felt there were too many people in the world who think liberty and justice for all means liberty and justice for themselves and their friends.

    I had always feared and loved the sea, and this gale was my bride and we had a three-day honeymoon, a violent, tumultuous time of undreamed-of ecstasy and satisfaction. Youth is almost always in deep trouble – of the mind, the heart, the flesh. And as a youth I think I managed to heap myself with more than my share.

    The slowness of rail travel is not because the Horse is incapable of great speed but because the railroad is a gossip; all along the line it stops to chat at back porches, to exchange the latest or borrow a cup of sugar. A train on its leisurely course often reminds me of a small boy who has been sent on an errand; the train gets there eventually, and so does the boy, but after what adventures, what amusing distractions and excursions, what fruitful dawdling!
    384 These essays are the reason I love reading essays to begin with. Five or ten minutes in the company of Mr. White's opinions, written by the master stylist that he is, leaves me feeling happy, refreshed, relaxed, and most of the time, amused. They are wonderful and he wrote a lot of them during his time at the New Yorker, so I don't have to stop with this book. 384

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