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In the Words of E. B. White: Quotations from America's Most Companionable of Writers

Overview

"The time not to become a father is eighteen years before a world war."—E. B. White on fatherhood

"I was lucky to be born abnormal. It ran in the family."—on luck

"I would really rather feel bad in Maine than feel good anywhere else." —on Maine

"The English language is always sticking a foot out to trip a man."—on language

The author of Charlotte's Web and One Man's Meat, coauthor of The Elements of Style, and columnist for The New Yorker for almost half a century, E. B. White (1899–1985) is an American literary ...

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In the Words of E. B. White: Quotations from America's Most Companionable of Writers

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Overview

"The time not to become a father is eighteen years before a world war."—E. B. White on fatherhood

"I was lucky to be born abnormal. It ran in the family."—on luck

"I would really rather feel bad in Maine than feel good anywhere else." —on Maine

"The English language is always sticking a foot out to trip a man."—on language

The author of Charlotte's Web and One Man's Meat, coauthor of The Elements of Style, and columnist for The New Yorker for almost half a century, E. B. White (1899–1985) is an American literary icon. Over the course of his career, White inspired generations of writers and readers with his essays (both serious and humorous), children's literature, and stylistic guidance.

In the Words of E. B. White offers readers a delightful selection of quotations, selected and annotated by his granddaughter and literary executor, Martha White. The quotations cover a wide range of subjects and situations, from Automobiles, Babies, Bees, City Life, and College to Spiders, Taxes, Weather, Work, and Worry. E. B. White comments on writing for children, how to tell a major poet from a minor one, and what to do when one becomes hopelessly mired in a sentence. White was apt to address the subject of security by speaking first about a Ferris wheel at the local county fair, or the subject of democracy from the perspective of roofing his barn and looking out across the bay—he had a gift for bringing the abstract firmly into the realm of the everyday. Included here are gems from White's books and essay collections, as well as bits from both published and unpublished letters and journals.

This is a book for readers and writers, for those who know E. B. White from his "Notes and Comment" column in The New Yorker, have turned to The Elements of Style for help in crafting a polished sentence, or have loved a spider's assessment of Wilbur as "Some Pig." This distillation of the wit, style, and humanity of one of America's most distinguished essayists of the twentieth century will be a welcome addition to any reader's bookshelf.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"E. B. White is one of those writers you are liable to meet again and again in the course of a reading life, each time wearing a different expression. . . . Now all those Whites have been brought together in the pages of In the Words of E. B. White, an anthology of quotations edited by his granddaughter Martha White. In her introduction, Martha White offers an affectionate sketch of her grandfather's career, including her own memories of the 'lifelong sense of wonder' he brought to all his endeavors. . . . In the Words of E. B. White offers a perfect introduction, or reintroduction, to a writer truly in the American grain."—Adam Kirsch, Barnes & Noble Review (27 December 2011)

"Seasoned White fans will delight in this charming array of wit, and first-time readers are to be envied the pleasure of getting to know this remarkable writer. Highly recommended."—Choice

"Quoting E. B. White is the easiest way I know of to fool people into thinking that I am perceptive, witty, and wise."—Peter Behrens, author of The Law of Dreams

"Whether on sailing in Maine, on love, or the propriety of style, E. B. White had something elegant to say. But why read this blurb, when you can open any page of this collection as proof?"—Joseph Dane, author of Dogfish Memory: Sailing in Search of Old Maine

"I can smell the pines and sea of Maine and feel there is honesty all around me. In a time flooded with meaningless noise, E. B. White provides elemental truths with humor and style. To paraphrase the man himself, I would really rather feel bad reading E. B. White, than feel good reading anyone else."—Maira Kalman, illustrator of The Elements of Style Illustrated and author of The Pursuit of Happiness

"This is a valuable and delightful collection of quotations from the writings of E. B. White, certainly one of America's most distinctive and distinguished men of letters of the twentieth century."—Seth Lerer, Distinguished Professor of English, University of California, San Diego, author of Inventing English and Children's Literature: A Reader's History

The Barnes & Noble Review

E. B. White is one of those writers you are liable to meet again and again in the course of a reading life, each time wearing a different expression. To children, he is the author of the classic animal tales Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little; to college students, he is half of Strunk and White, the authoritative guides behind The Elements of Style. Later on, he may turn up as the urbane humorist who helped define the voice of the early New Yorker, or the Maine farmer who learned about enduring values from tending his chickens and pigs, or the earnest liberal who upheld free speech during the McCarthy period.

Now all those Whites have been brought together in the pages of In the Words of E. B. White: Quotations from America's Most Companionable of Writers, an anthology of quotations edited by his granddaughter Martha White. Appropriately, the book is published by Cornell University Press: Cornell was White's alma mater, the place where he got his first newspaper experience and picked up his lifelong nickname, Andy (after the university's founder, Andrew Dickson White). In her introduction, Martha White offers an affectionate sketch of her grandfather's career, including her own memories of the "lifelong sense of wonder" he brought to all his endeavors.

It's not hard to see why she chose the word "companionable" to describe White's writing. In person, he was famously shy — James Thurber, his fellow New Yorker writer, described the way White would slip out of his office by the fire escape rather than receive visitors. But on the page, White was indeed an easy companion, never intimidating the reader with erudition or experiment. He exemplified the virtues he tried to teach in The Elements of Style:

Young writers often suppose that style is a garnish for the meat of prose, a sauce by which a dull dish. Style has no such separate entity.... The beginner should approach style warily, realizing that it is himself he is approaching, no other; and he should begin by turning resolutely away from all devices that are popularly believed to indicate style — all mannerisms, tricks, adornments. The approach to style is by way of plainness, simplicity, orderliness, sincerity.
But unlike Ernest Hemingway, whom White famously parodied in "Across the Street and into the Grill," there is nothing austere about White's plainness. It is, rather, a vehicle for straight-faced, self- deprecating humor. "Writers...who take their literary selves with great seriousness are at considerable pains never to associate their name with anything funny or flippant or nonsensical or 'light,' " he writes. "They suspect it would hurt their reputation, and they are right." White himself had no such fears, and he often appears in his own work as a comic figure, especially when he writes about his unlikely career as a farmer. "In the minds of my friends and neighbors who really know what they are about and whose clothes really fit them, much of my activity has the quality of a little girl playing house. My routine is that of a husbandman, but my demeanor is that of a high-school boy in a soft- drink parlor."

But this smiling demeanor shouldn't be mistaken for flippancy. Just underneath the surface, White writes as an earnest upholder of American values, a writer in the libertarian tradition of Thoreau. Walden was his favorite book — "the only book I own, although there are some others unclaimed on my shelves" — and he sees his own farm as a similar experiment in independence and authenticity. Like Thoreau, too, White stood up for the rights of the individual against the pressure to conform: "one of the noblest attributes of democracy is that it contains no one who can truthfully say, of two pots, which is the cracked, which is the whole." In all these ways, In the Words of E. B. White offers a perfect introduction, or reintroduction, to a writer truly in the American grain.

Adam Kirsch is a senior editor at The New Republic and a columnist for Nextbook.org.

Reviewer: Adam Kirsch

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801449550
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 10/6/2011
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 733,761
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Martha White is manager of White Literary LLC, the literary estate of E. B. White, and the editor of Letters of E. B. White. A freelance writer herself, she lives on the coast of Maine.

Biography

"Style is even more important in children's books than in those for adults,” said the New York Times reviewer of Stuart Little, E.B. White's first book for children, in 1954. White -- an essayist whose elegant, deceptively simple writings for Harper's and The New Yorker had garnered him national acclaim -- may have seemed an unlikely children’s book author, but Stuart Little proved that good writing (and style) could translate to any genre, even to books for readers too young to enjoy his Talk of the Town pieces.

White had in fact been writing ever since he was a child, growing up in the "leafy suburbs" of Mount Vernon, New York. "I fell in love with the sound of an early typewriter and have been stuck with it ever since," he said later. After graduating from Cornell University in 1921, he tried to turn his facility with words into some form of gainful employment, but found advertising too dull and news reporting too taxing. Finally the Seattle Times asked him to create a small daily column of brief anecdotes and light verse, and White joined Mark Twain in the pantheon of American newspaper humorists.

In 1926, a fledgling publication called The New Yorker offered him a job on its staff. There, he helped create the signature style of clear, elegant writing with which the magazine would thereafter be associated. In New York he befriended writers like James Thurber and Dorothy Parker, and met the woman who was to become his wife, the literary editor Katharine Sergeant Angell.

White's second literary career, as a writer of children's books, had its origins in a dream of a little boy like a mouse, "all complete, with his hat, his cane, and his brisk manner." He began to make up stories about this dapper character to please his nephews and nieces, and eventually organized the Stuart Little stories into a book, which was published to high acclaim in 1945, and made into a feature film in 1999.

The barn of White's farmhouse in Maine provided the inspiration for a second children's book, Charlotte's Web (1952). This fable about a heroic spider and her efforts to save a pig from slaughter was even more successful than Stuart Little. "As a piece of work it is just about perfect," wrote Eudora Welty in The New York Times, and millions of readers agreed. Charlotte's Web was still high on the bestseller lists in 1970, when it was joined by White's third and final book for children, The Trumpet of the Swan.

White produced another bestseller in 1959, when he revised and expanded a little handbook of grammar and usage written by his late teacher at Cornell, William Strunk, Jr. Now familiar to generations of college students as Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, the book made a wise and witty case for what White called "clearness, accuracy and brevity in the use of English."

White's assessment of his own writing was a characteristic mix of humility and grandeur: "All that I ever hope to say in books is that I love the world. I guess you can find that in there, if you dig around."

Good To Know

Galleys of Stuart Little were sent to Anne Carroll Moore, who was head of children's books at the New York Public Library. Moore hated it. "To her it was nonaffirmative, inconclusive, unfit for children, and she felt it would harm its author if published," said White's editor, Ursula Nordstrom. She fired off a letter to White’s wife, and then made her case to Nordstrom -- who went ahead and published anyway.

After Stuart Little was released, White received a great deal of praise for the book, as well as some unusual criticism: "Then three fellows turned up claiming that their name was Stuart Little, and what was I going to do about that?" he wrote. "One of them told me he had begun work on a children's story: The hero was a rat and the rat's name was E. B. White."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Elwyn Brooks White (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 11, 1899
    2. Place of Birth:
      Mount Vernon, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      October 1, 1985
    2. Place of Death:
      North Brooklin, Maine

Table of Contents

A Note to the Reader

Introduction: "A Simple and Sincere Account"
E. B. White Chronology

The Words of E. B. White
Aging – Airplanes – Animals – Atomic Age – Automobiles – Autumn – Awards – Babies – Barns – Bees – Biography – Birds – Boats and Boating – Books – Cancer – Capitalism – Chickens – Childhood – Christmas – City Life – College – Commerce – Common Sense – Counsel – Country Life – Courage – Cows – Critics – Death – Democracy – Diplomacy – Disarmament – Dogs – Doom – Dreams – Education – Eggs – Elements of Style – Endorsements – English Usage – Entertainment – Equality – Faith – Family – Farming – Fatherhood – Fear – Freedom – Freedom of Speech – Friendship – Future – Gardening – Government – Grammar – Gratitude – Health – Home – Hope – House – Humor – Hypochondria – Junk Mail – Justice – Kennedy, John F. – Landscape – Language – Leisure – Letters – Liberty – Life – Literature – Love – Loyalty – Luck – Maine – Maine Speech – Marriage – Middle Age – Miracles – Moon – Morning – Nationalism – Nature – Newspapers – New York City – The New Yorker – Nothing – Passion – Peace – Photography – Poets and Poetry – Polls – Pollution – Possessions – Prejudice – Pseudonyms – Public Speaking – Quotations – Railroads – Rats – Reading – Religion – Ross, Harold – Sailing – Science – Sea – Seasons – Security – Sex – Skating – Society – Spelling – Spiders – Spring – Style – Summer – Symbolism – Taxes – Telephone – Television – Terror – Thoreau, Henry David – Thurber, James – Time War – Weather – Winter – Words – Work – Worry – Writing and Writers – Youth

Selected Bibliography
Index

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 19, 2012

    Perfect gift

    E.B.White was one of this language's best friends. That makes this book a perfect gift for any reader or yourself, and the ideal bathroom book, because the samples are short, and you can dip into them anywhere.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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