Sunday, July 11, 2010

In Memoriam: E. B. White

E. B. White was a hero of mine even before I knew who he was; I was maybe eight or nine years old at the time, and all I knew is that he had written three of my favourite books - which are themselves a trifecta of perfection in the realm of kid-lit: Stuart Little, Charlotte's Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan remain the win, place, and show of the genre despite having been written at a time long before there even was such a thing.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketSubsequent discoveries regarding his substantial contribution to the world of letters have increased, rather than diminished, my appreciation of this gentle man and his prodigious gifts...

He was, of course, instrumental in establishing the tone of The New Yorker, and since buying 80 years' worth of issues on DVD I have had ample opportunity to learn the fine art of writing casuals and profiles directly from the master*.

Should my problem go deeper than tone I can also refer to The Elements of Style, more commonly called Strunk & White, of which he - predictably enough - is the White. This essential tome on the English language and its labyrinthine grammar reminds me to always eschew obfuscation with the single best piece of advice any writer can get: 'omit needless words', which I believe Mr. White later amended to 'omit unnecessary words', semantically not only an improvement but a clarification. It's such great advice, too, which makes it an even greater shame that I never take it.

And finally, in 2008's excellent memoir Let Me Finish longtime New Yorker contributor and E. B. White's stepson Roger Angell extolled the man's virtues as gently as he analysed his foibles, resulting in a humanistic portrayal of the shy and retiring New England farmer who long ago ignited my imagination as well as being one of the first to make me want to become a novelist.

*Which emulation I hope has bettered, rather than worsened, the tone around this dump, as least as far as the writing goes.
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