Kirkus Star


Email this review


The author of sundry ""Notes and Comments"" for The New Yorker, One Man's Meat, Charlotte's Web, and other foibles takes his reserved place as an all-time man of letters. In an early specimen, written when he was sixteen, White describes to brother Stan a recalcitrant car that ""gave a couple of coughs, a muffled sob, and died,"" and goes on to explain precisely why ""Pigeons are easier and more profitable to keep than chickens."" The bent was natural, the outcome providential. ""Not until The New Yorker came along,"" he writes to Stanley in 1929, ""did I ever find any means of expressing those impertinences and irrelevancies"" of life. Over the years there are letters to scattered relatives and to his wife Katharine, editor and alter ego; to a congeries of colleagues, acquaintances, and friends, their offspring and survivors; to professional contacts and the stream of strangers who solicited aid, offered advice, praised, reproved, and--in his view--needed to be set right. ""There is no symbolism in Charlotte's Web,"" he told a film director: ""It is a straight report from the barn cellar, which I deafly love, having spent so many fide hours there, winter and summer, spring and fall, good times and bad times, with the garrulous geese, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, and the sameness of sheep."" In wartime Washington he is dismissive of intellectual idealists ""making their plans for the world in much the same way that any common tyrant does""; an intent student is warned, ""I should not try to learn to write without learning first to be frivolous."" There are observations on the traits of mice (and the remorse of catching one); on New Yorker advertising (""the jungle that supports the stream""); on the niggling Reader's Digest approach to manuscripts: ""The way to approach a manuscript is on all fours, in utter amazement."" (For years at a time, illness or some deeper ailment prevented White from writing.) 704 pages, none too many, with discreet and useful notes by White's goddaughter, herself a New Yorker alumna. Publication just in time for Thanksgiving.

Pub Date: Nov. 24th, 1976
ISBN: 0061374598
Publisher: Harper & Row