The White Stuff

No, I'm not talking about snow. I just thought I'd take a moment to give a tip of the ski cap to Elwyn Brooks White, sometimes called "Andy," but remembered by generations of readers as simply "E.B. White."

There's a new movie version of "Charlotte's Web"due out in a couple weeks, and a new revised edition of the "Letters of E.B. White" is being published, officially, today. Meanwhile, his classic "The Elements of Style" remains a perennial in classrooms around the country. And for good reason. White's sensibility, and good sense, were impeccable. His writing, to this day, glistens. It celebrates the simple sentence, wrapped around a complex idea, but warmed by his own unmistakable wit. White was a mass of contradictions: an urbane city-dweller whose humor and sophistication lit up the pages of The New Yorker,back when it was the greatest magazine in the world, yet he was also a bit of a bumpkin who loved nature, enjoyed farm chores, and became most famous for writing about talking pigs and a literate spider.

He saw things most of us miss, but made us see them, too. Of the space race, he wrote: "I see nothing in space as promising as the view from a Ferris wheel." Of the human condition, he opined: "When I was a child people simply looked about them and were moderately happy; today they peer beyond the seven seas, bury themselves waist deep in tidings, and by and large what they see and hear makes them unutterably sad." And in one of the most eloquent conclusions in all of literature, he wrote: "It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."

His letters are classics of economy and wisdom, too. Answering a fan letter from a youthful admirer a few years before his death, he closed with these words:

I take a good deal of satisfaction in knowing that somewhere somebody is pursuing the written word because of my own words. I'm glad you told me about it, and I wish you good luck and good hunting.

You won't find that letter in any of E.B. White's published collections. It's framed and hanging on my wall at home.