Tuesday, July 19, 2011

An E. B. White Summer


I thought it was going to be a Eudora Welty summer, so imagine my surprise that it's turned out to be the Summer of E.B. White. How do these things happen? Oh, the best laid plans ...

I suppose it started when the Man and I visited a used bookstore on Broad Street in May and I found Letters of E.B. White for three bucks and scooped it up. This book has been a fine companion all summer. I open it in slow moments and read a little, and suddenly the quality of my thoughts vastly improves.

(The critic Harold Bloom once wrote something to the effect that reading novels doesn't improve us morally, as some would have it, but improves our imaginations and interior lives, which is not to be undervalued. This is a broad paraphrase of Bloom, but I've thought about it a lot, and ultimately agree, though I do think some novels have improved me morally.)

I was at the library Saturday when I came across The Story of Charlotte's Web: E.B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic by Michael Sims, which was published last month. I'm about a hundred pages in and completely hooked. The description of White's childhood, which was by all accounts idyllic except that White was shy and prone to melancholia and susceptible to all the usual childhood terrors--which is to say he was a sensitive child--is worth the cost of admission alone.

I haven't even gotten to the part about how White wrote Charlotte's Web, but I'm tingling with anticipation. After all, isn't Charlotte's Web one of my very favorite books ever?

Yes it is, and you know what? It is so much one of my very favorite books ever that when I'm asked to list my favorite books, I rarely answer Charlotte's Web. Why is that? I pondered this yesterday, and yesterday the answer came to me: To say Charlotte's Web is one of my very favorite books ever is akin to saying I have dark brown hair (or did), or that I'm left-handed, or that I grew up in the Army. It's so much of a part of me that it doesn't occur to me to mention it. Did I mention to you that I breathe? That I blink every few seconds?

I nominate E.B. White as the perfect summer literary companion. Who would you nominate?


Pom Pom said...

Oh yes. I quite agree! Stuart Little is a member of our family. E.B. White was a genius. It's been quite some time since I read about him. Thank you for the reminder.

wayside wanderer said...

Oh, I agree. Charlotte's Web is perfect for summertime. E.B. White certainly captures the way children think and feel compassion. I would love to read about him, too.

I just started Treasure Island. Stevenson is such an interesting man that I look forward to seeing what I learn about him through this book. I've read Dr. Jekyll several times and his book of poems have been read to all my children.

I'm going to have to think about that quote about novels not improving us morally. I like doing that...thinking about stuff for a long time.

Happy reading!

Susan said...

It sounds oh so very cliche, but my favorite summer companion is To Kill a Mockingbird. It was on my summer reading list for ninth grade. Since I discovered the wonders of Mockingbird in summer, it only seems right to re-visit it each summer to unlock a richer understanding. Plus, in summer I can almost smell Maycomb County and feel the Southern summer days and evenings. My summer daydreams are of sitting on a squeeky old porch swing with Atticus and smelling Miss Maudie's hydrangeas.

The dB family said...

Agreed here too! I'm working through the quilt books by Jennifer Chiaverinni, but an E.B. White summer sounds great! I have to agree with your paraphrase of Harold Bloom's too. Brilliant post!


GretchenJoanna said...

I have been endlessly deliberating what books to take on our trip tomorrow - after reading this post it's obvious what it should be: Stuart Little, one of my all-time favorites. I need him right now.

That Eccentric Life etc book sounds like one I must have.


Angela said...

To Kill A Mockingbird IS wonderful on a hot summer's day. But I think HE Bates and his stories of the Larkin Family [Darling buds of May etc] are wonderfully evocative of an English summer in the 50s/early 60s- and his descriptions of food are breathtakingly mouthwatering, and the pictures he paints of Kentish countryside ...