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Essays of E. B. White (Perennial Classics)

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Essays of E. B. White (Perennial Classics) Cover

ISBN13: 9780060932237
ISBN10: 0060932236
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Excerpt

Good-bye to Forty-eighth StreetTurtle Bay, November 12, 1957

For some weeks now I have been engaged in dispersing the contents of this apartment, trying to persuade hundreds of inanimate objects to scatter and leave me alone. It is not a simple matter. I am impressed by the reluctance of one's worldly goods to go out again into the world. During September I kept hoping that some morning, as by magic, all books, pictures, records, chairs, beds, curtains, lamps, china, glass, utensils, keepsakes would drain away from around my feet, like the outgoing tide, leaving me standing silent on a bare beach, But this did not happen. My wife and I diligently sorted and discarded things from day to day, and packed other objects for the movers, but a sixroom apartment holds as much paraphernalia as an aircraft carrier. You can whittle away at it, but to empty the place completely takes real ingenuity and great staying power. On one of the mornings of disposal, a man from a second-hand bookstore visited us, bought several hundred books, and told us of the death of his brother, the word "cancer" exploding in the living room like a time bomb detonated by his grief. Even after he had departed with his heavy load, there seemed to be almost as many books as before, and twice as much sorrow.

Every morning, when I left for work, I would take something in my hand and walk off with it, for deposit in the big municipal wire trash basket at the corner of Third, on the theory that the physical act of disposal was the real key to the problem. My wife, a strategist, knew better and began quietly mobilizing the forces that would eventually put our goods to rout. A man could walk away for a thousand morningscarrying something with him to the corner and there would still be a home full of stuff. It is not possible to keep abreast of the normal tides of acquisition. A home is like a reservoir equipped with a check valve: the valve permits influx but prevents outflow. Acquisition goes on night and day — smoothly, subtly, imperceptibly. I have no sharp taste for acquiring things, but it is not necessary to desire things in order to acquire them. Goods and chattels seek a man out; they find him even though his guard is up. Books and oddities arrive in the mail. Gifts arrive on anniversaries and fete days. Veterans send ballpoint pens. Banks send memo books. If you happen to be a writer, readers send whatever may be cluttering up their own lives; I had a man once send me a chip of wood that showed the marks of a beaver's teeth. Someone dies, and a little trickle of indestructible keepsakes appears, to swell the flood. This steady influx is not counterbalanced by any comparable outgo. Under ordinary circumstances, the only stuff that leaves a home is paper trash and garbage; everything else stays on and digs in.

Lately we haven't spent our nights in the apartment; we are bivouacked in a hotel and just come here mornings to continue the work. Each of us has a costume. My wife steps into a cotton dress while I shift into midnight-blue tropical pants and bowling shoes. Then we buckle down again to the unending task.

All sorts of special problems arise during the days of disposal. Anyone who is willing to put his mind to it can get rid of a chair, say, but what about a trophy? Trophies are like leeches. The ones made of paper, such as a diploma from a school or a college, can be burned if youhave the guts to light the match, but the ones made of bronze not only are indestructible but are almost impossible to throw away, because they usually carry your name, and a man doesn't like to throw away his good name, or even his bad one. Some busybody might find it. People differ in their approach to trophies, of course. In watching Edward R. Murrow's "Person to Person" program on television, I have seen several homes that contained a "trophy room," in which the celebrated pack rat of the house had assembled all his awards, so that they could give out the concentrated aroma of achievement whenever he wished to loiter in such an atmosphere. This is all very well if you enjoy the stale smell of success, but if a man doesn't care for that air he is in a real fix when disposal time comes up. One day a couple of weeks ago, I sat for a while staring moodily at a plaque that had entered my life largely as a result of some company's zest for promotion. It was bronze on walnut, heavy enough to make an anchor for a rowboat, but I didn't need a rowboat anchor, and this thing had my name on it. By deft work with a screwdriver, I finally succeeded in prying the nameplate off; I pocketed this, and carried the mutilated remains to the corner, where the wire basket waited. The work exhausted me more than did the labor for which the award was presented.

Another day, I found myself on a sofa between the chip of wood gnawed by the beaver and an honorary hood I had once worn in an academic procession. What I really needed at the moment was the beaver himself, to eat the hood. I shall never wear the hood again, but I have too weak a character to throw it away, and I do not doubt that it will tag alongwith me to the end of my days, not keeping me either warm or happy but occupying a bit of my attic space.

Right in the middle of the dispersal, while the mournful rooms were still loaded with loot, I had a wonderful idea: we would shut the apartment, leave everything to soak for a while, and go to the Fryeburg Fair, in Maine, where we could sit under a tent at a cattle auction and watch somebody else trying to dispose of something. A fair, of course, is a dangerous spot if a man is hoping to avoid acquisition, and the truth is I came close to acquiring a very pretty whiteface heifer, safe in calf-which would...

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Catherine Chandler, August 26, 2013 (view all comments by Catherine Chandler)
Growing up, I had no idea that E.B. White wrote anything other than "Charlotte's Web." I soon learned, through college, that he was, in fact, an esteemed author, contributing countless essays and stories to publications. While I have generally shied away from collections of author essays, preferring instead to get lost in fiction, White's auction reads less like informative essays and more like a journal. We are transported back in time, traveling through history and catching a glimpse at what his life was like--what society was like. Peppered with antics of his farm animals, and the trials and tribulations of living in rural Maine, the fluctuations within White's writings create a rhythmic collection that should not be missed.
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danielle.maris, October 12, 2010 (view all comments by danielle.maris)
You may know him as "the guy who wrote Charlotte's Web" but did you know that E.B. White was also a brilliant essayist? That he helped form The New Yorker, contributing over 1800 pieces? That he was an environmentalist?

White wrote that "the essayist is a self-liberated man, sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him, is of general interest." Well, luckily for us, everything that White writes about (from life on his farm in Maine to the pulsing streets of New York to his thoughts on Henry David Thoreau) is of great interest, even fifty, sixty years later. His essays are graceful, elegant, and sometimes even deceiving, focusing on the small things in life while presenting a greater perspective on the world.

Or, as Charlotte herself might say, White's writing is "terrific" and "radiant" but ultimately, and perhaps most importantly, "humble."
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(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)
Amanda Schaefer, December 9, 2008 (view all comments by Amanda Schaefer)
Fifteen years ago I recieved Charlotte's Web for Christmas. This year for Christmas I'm reading Mr. White's volume of essays. If you loved his children's books as a child, you'll love his insightful and (of course) stylish essays as an adult.
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(5 of 9 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780060932237
Author:
White, E. B.
Publisher:
Harper Perennial
Author:
by E. B White
Author:
E, B.
Author:
by E. B White
Author:
White
Location:
New York, NY :
Subject:
Essays
Subject:
20th century
Subject:
American essays
Subject:
Essays - Single Authors
Subject:
American essays -- 20th century.
Subject:
Anthologies-Essays
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Series:
Perennial Classics
Publication Date:
20061231
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
384
Dimensions:
8 x 5.3125 x 0.864865 in

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Related Subjects


Fiction and Poetry » Anthologies » Essays
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » Journalism » Journalists
Humanities » Literary Criticism » General

Essays of E. B. White (Perennial Classics) Used Trade Paper
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Product details 384 pages Harper Perennial Modern Classics - English 9780060932237 Reviews:
"Review" by , "His voice rumbles with authority through sentences of surpassing grace. In his more than fifty years at The New Yorker, White set a standard of writerly craft for that supremely well-wrought magazine. In genial, perfectly poised essay after essay, he has wielded the English language with as much clarity and control as any American of his time."
"Review" by , "Some of the finest examples of contemporary, genuinely American prose. White's style incorporates eloquence without affection, profundity without pomposity, and wit without frivolity or hostility. Like his predecessors Thoreau and Twain, White's creative, humane, and graceful perceptions are an education for the sensibilities."
"Review" by , "The abiding spirit of these essays is humane, compassionate, traditionalistic. No matter what his subject, White always keeps his eye on the long view and the larger perspective. There are times when I feel his work is as much a national resource as the Liberty Bell, a call to the best and noblest in us."
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