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Letters of E. B. White Paperback – Dec 18 2007
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About the Author
E. B. White, the author of such beloved classics as Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan, was born in Mount Vernon, New York. He graduated from Cornell University in 1921 and, five or six years later, joined the staff of The New Yorker magazine, then in its infancy. He died on October 1, 1985, and was survived by his son and three grandchildren.
Mr. White's essays have appeared in Harper's magazine, and some of his other books are: One Man's Meat, The Second Tree from the Corner, Letters of E. B. White, Essays of E. B. White, and Poems and Sketches of E. B. White. He won countless awards, including the 1971 National Medal for Literature and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, which commended him for making a "substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children."
During his lifetime, many young readers asked Mr. White if his stories were true. In a letter written to be sent to his fans, he answered, "No, they are imaginary tales . . . But real life is only one kind of life—there is also the life of the imagination."
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
A modest man, E. B. White claims often that writing for him is difficult and painful. Yet this collection of letters shows that from the beginning, Elwyn Brooks White had an innate ability to write simply, clearly, and charmingly.
Whether he is thanking young readers for compliments, advising aspiring writers on writing, or berating a famous author for endorsing a product, he is witty, clear, and compassionate.
Reading these letters you will think, cry, laugh, and even wince, but you will not frown in confusion as you wonder what the writer is trying to say. As a very beneficial side effect, reading E. B. White will often improve your own writing.
Am I biased? You bet! Years of reading the stilted, jargon-laced writing of business, and the contrived, artificial efforts at "style" of many authors, reading anything by E. B. White is like talking to your best friend.
1. He was against the isolationist stance promoted by the Lindberghs. White was against all wars up to this one, but he could not accept what Hitler was doing in Europe. He saw the danger and wrote about it. He was not the first one to write. There were many people who actually lived or traveled extensively in Europe during this time that spoke out first, but White was an eloquent spokesman against Nazis and isolationism.
2. He was a strong advocate of world government. He was the first writer who had a national forum to write on it. And he wrote a lot. For a time fully one-third of his editorials in The New Yorker were on that subject. It hasn't worked out as well as he had hoped, but much of that is because the United States has not backed the United Nations in the way we should have. Also, White was strongly against the veto power given to the major nations (particular the Soviet Union). Again, I think time has proven him right.
3. He was the first to criticize the House Un-American Activities Committee. And it was at a time when Congress, by a vote of 346-17, agreed to issue subpoenas to the Hollywood Ten. To come and support these 10 people and look directly into the eyes of 346 members of Congress and tell them "you're wrong", took a great act of courage. Unfortunately, there weren't many others like him at the time.
4. He spoke out against Joseph McCarthy even when Eisenhower was afraid to publicly do so. It was his eloquence and his ability to shape people's minds with his words that helped stop this political rock that was rolling down a very steep hill.
5. He was against nuclear testing. He was the first one to ever do so in an editorial.
6. He wrote extensively on the environment. He called attention to the many violations of city ordinances that prohibited belched, black, soft-coal smoke from entering our urban atmosphere. Between 1959 and 1960 he wrote 17 columns on environmental pollution that The New Yorker published anonymously under the heading "These Precious Days."
7. He was in the forefront against racial discrimination. He wrote this in Harper's Magazine in February 1941:
There are two moving picture theaters in the town to which my key (he was vacationing in the Florida Keys) is attached by a bridge. In one of them, colored people are allowed in the balcony. In the other, colored people are not allowed at all. I saw a patriotic newsreel there the other day that ended with a picture of the American flag blowing in the breeze, and the words: one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Everyone clapped, but I decided I could not clap for liberty and justice (for all) while I was in a theater from which Negroes had been barred. And I felt there were too many people in the world who think liberty and justice for all means liberty and justice for themselves and their friends. I sat there wondering what would happen to me if I were to jump up and say in a loud voice: "If you folks like liberty and justice so much, why do you keep Negroes from this theater?" I am sure it would have surprised everybody very much and it is the kind of thing I dream about dong but never do. If I had done it I suppose the management would have taken me by the arm and marched me out of the theater, on the grounds that it is disturbing the peace to speak up for liberty just as the feature is coming on. .......It is conceivable that the Negroes of a hundred years from now will enjoy a greater degree of liberty if the present restrictions on today's Negroes are not relaxed too fast. But that doesn't get today's Negroes in to see Hedy Lamarr.
The original hardcover review: "The perfect book is the book where you don't care what page you're on, & this is the perfect book."
Post Note (08/18/10): In case you're thinking of purchasing the Revised Edition of the Letters (2006), don't.
Recently, a friend exhibited an interest in Mr. White after being swiftly won over by sampling a page or two of White's "Wild Flag" (Houghton Mifflin Co.; 1943-46).
I figured his best next venture would be the Letters & foraged into the Amazon marketplace, where I found the "Letters of E.B. White, Revised Edition." I'm game. A paperback copy was purchased.
I was appalled, successively, by:
Richard Grant's cliché-infested "Praise for The Revised Edition" ("deft," etc.) is exactly the sort of cheapjack media log-rolling that Andy White regarded with heart-felt contempt;
John Updike's weirdly disengaged "Foreword" also featured the telltale "deft" (a word most likely to surface when a writer is uninspired by what he's been commissioned to endorse) - & the word "unease," promiscuously employed no less than five times (buy a thesaurus!). Its final paragraph ends with the tone of his writing tailing off into a void of invisible conviction;
(Updike's incessant characterization of White's "unease" should be balanced by what Updike had written earlier which, fortunately, was quoted by White's biographer, Scott Elledge, p. 130, "E.B. White, A Biography," 1985 paperback edition: "What struck me in [White's] walk, in the encouraging memos he once or twice wrote me, & in [what he wrote for `Notes & Comment'] was how much fun he had in him than us younger residents of those halls [of The New Yorker]" magazine.)
And Martha White's graceless & clumsy "Editor's Note" was offensive.
Dorothy Lobrano Guth was the original editor, having done at least eighty percent of the work that was then recycled into the revised edition - hard toil that went inexplicably & rudely unacknowledged by M. White.
(Thankfully, it is emphatically stated right on the front cover of the book: "Originally Edited By" DLG. This makes M. White's silence/omission all the more glaring.)
Additionally, Guth's original empathetic, personable "Acknowledgments" - thanking each one of the many people who had assisted her in the 1976 publication of the original edition - is nowhere to be found in the revised edition, which is outrageous.
And had M. White competently edited, as a matter of professional courtesy, she would have provided a list of the letters in the original edition (by my count, 64) that she left out of the revised edition; & an asterisk next to the letters in the first 14 chapters in the revised edition (by my count, 17) not published in the original edition (the letters in the final two chapters of the revised edition are all "new").
It's a shame that Andy White had not been there to prevent her use of the absurdly redundant slang, "copied out" (editor's note, p. 618. If nothing can be "copied in", the reverse reveals itself as grammatical nonsense. It is incredible that something like this could appear in a book of the letters of a renowned writing stylist who had famously endorsed Will Strunk's advice: "Omit unnecessary words!").
Incredibly, NONE OF THIS MATTERS.
All of the above was irrevocably upstaged by Harper Perennial's technical incompetence. The size of the type employed is so small as to be illegible; the ink density is practically non-existent (illegibility factor squared), & the quality of the flimsy paper is unacceptable.
Hold the book up with the spine of the binding in the palm of your hand, with the book bottom facing you.
It tilts & flounders & flops like a garage driveway-destined annual edition of the Yellow Pages.
So, for all of these reasons, spend a little extra money & buy the hard-cover edition of the original Letters. Fortunately, I had recently found one in a used book store in Maine; little did I know how valuable this discovery would be. It was gratefully given to my friend in appreciation for all that he has done for us in past years.
The Revised Edition, a disgrace, at some point will be discarded.
Post Note: Added 09/30/12
The Alphabetical "Who's Who" Of Letters of EBW
Oddly, the NFL informative writing style of their coach & player profiles is superior to that found in "Letters":
Example: "Thomas Richard Coughlin [head coach, N.Y. Giant] was born on Aug. 31, 1946...[he] & his wife Judy have two daughters, Keli & Kathie; two sons-in-law named Chris; two sons, Brian & Tim; two daughters-in-law, Andrea (Tim's wife) & Susie (Brian's wife); & five grandchildren, Emma Rose, Dylan, Shea, Cooper, & Caroline May."
As Opposed To: With the exception of E.B. (Andy) White's ten-page introduction, the identities of the letter-receivers are often inadequately explained (their relationship to EBW, etc.).
Considering that White was famous for the clarity of his writing, this is really a minor case of Something Amazing.
Look for your own name in here as well. Five or six individuals named in White's last will & testament were never contacted, for want of knowledge of their whereabouts. You might be one of them.
Bob Adams, Cornell student & EBW Village roommate (p. 71)
Bristow Adams, Cornell faculty (m. Luella Adams; p. 67)
Franklin P. Adams ("FPA," 1881-1960), newspaper columnist (p. 18)
Frederick Lewis Allen (1890-1954), Harper's magazine Editor, after 1942 (p. 149)
"Henry" Colson Allen, EBW home caretaker (p. 371)
Alice Angell, daughter of Roger Angell (p. 521)
Caroline Angell ("Callie"), daughter of Roger Angell (p. 521)
Ernest Angell, Katherine White's 1st husband (p. 83); father of Roger & Nancy
Angell (EBW's step-children)
Nancy Angell, EBW step-daughter (p. 83); m. Louis Stableford (1941)
Roger Angell (1920- ), son of Katherine White & step-son of EBW (p. x) & TNY writer/editor; m. Evelyn Baker (p. 219); divorced (p. 506); m. Carol Rogge (p. 600, 1970)
Parker & Greta Lee Banzhof, friends of E.B. W. (p. 598)
Bernard Bergman, TNY managing editor (p. 111)
Morris Bishop (1893-1973; p. 18), Cornell faculty & TNY contributor
Wikipedia profile (09/20/12): Morris Gilbert Bishop (April 15, 1893 - November 20, 1973) was an American scholar, historian, biographer, author, & humorist. Raised in Canada & New York, he attended Cornell from 1910-1913, earning a Bachelor's in 1913 & then a Master of Arts degree in 1914.
He then worked in the advertising industry & served in the army in World War I, returning to Cornell afterward to begin teaching in 1921 & to earn a Ph.D. in 1926. He was associated for the whole of his adult life with Cornell University, as alumnus, Kappa Alpha Professor of Romance Literature & University Historian. Bishop wrote the preeminent history of the university, A History of Cornell.
Walter Blair, professor; unwittingly provided an unwanted - by EBW - preface to a collected edition of the Harper's magazine "One Man's Meat" columns (p. 513)
Paul Brooks, Houghton Mifflin editor (p. 399)
Joseph Bryan III (p. 124), Town & Country editor; Saturday Evening Post (pp. 163, 167);
Irrelevantly, I'll mention that he is probably the most prolific of the myriad incidental identities that float around in various memoirs about the 1920s-30s; author of the splendid Merry Gentlemen (& One Lady) [Atheneum 1985]
Alice Burchfield (Index: "Alice Burchfield Sumner"), EBW's girlfriend at Cornell (p. 21)
G.L. Burr (p. 20), Cornell faculty
Henry Canby (1878-1961), Nat. Inst. Of Arts & Letters (p. 280)
Cass Canfield (1897-1986), Harper & Brothers editor; succeeded Eugene Saxton (p. 185)
J.G. Case, editor, Macmillan (p. 401); d. 1970, succeeded by D.A. English (seriously; p. 621)
Bob & Elsa Coates (B.C., TNY writer 1897-1973), Greenwich Village friends (p. 101)
Hope Crouch, NYC friend (pp. 79-80)
Howard Cushman, Cornell student (p. 18); close friend of EBW & a writer
Addison Danzig, Cornell student (p. 17); later, NYT sports reporter
Elmer Davis (1890-1958), journalist (p. 347)
David Dodd, retired Columbia professor (p. 568)
Scott Elledge, EBW biographer (p. 516)
Morris Ernst (1888-1976), EBW taxes prepared by the firm of Greenbaum, Wolff & Ernst; also a co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union (p. 175; also see p. 331)
Amy Flashner (p. 182), worked for Eugene Saxton at Harper & Brothers, EBW's publisher
Ruth Fleishmann (1894-1950, nee Gardner)
Married Raoul Fleischmann (her 2nd husband; TNY owner), 1920; divorced R.F. (year unknown); married Peter Vischer (Botsford: "1938" - but referred to as a done deal by EBW in a letter dated "October? 1937," p. 166).
Profiled extensively by her son, TNY editor Gardner Botsford in his excellent memoir, "A Life of Privilege, Mostly" (2003)
John Fleming (p. 150), U.S. Department of Agriculture
Mike Galbreath, Cornell student & EBW Village NYC roommate (p. 71; tragic fate, went mad, p. 109)
Wolcott Gibbs (1902-58), TNY editor, writer & playwright (p. 102)
Milton Greenstein, EBW/TNY lawyer (p. 311 fn; also see Morris Ernst)
J.G. ("Jap") & Helen Gude, Village friends (p. 101)
Beulah Hagen, Cass Canfield's assistant at Harper (p. 493); succeeded by Corona Machemer (not in index; p. 654)
James Hart, EBW great-grandfather (p. 3; maternal; father of William Hart)
William Hart, EBW grandfather (p. 3; maternal; father of EBW's mother, Jessie Hart White; son of James Hart)
Lee Hartmann, Harper's magazine editor, ?-1942 (p. 148)
Geoffrey Hellman (1907-77), TNY notable (p. 101)
Carl Helm, PR executive (p. 30)
Charles & Sadie Henderson, friends, in Brooklin ME (p. 292)
Robert Hubbard, camp counselor & friend of EBW (p. 21)
Chris Jennison, editor, "An E.B. White Reader" (p. 535)
Dale Kramer, author, seedy Harold Ross biography (pp. 239 & 322)
Alex Lindey, lawyer (p. 334)
Gustave Lobrano (b? d. 1956), Cornell student; EBW roommate in Village; TNY editor (1941-56); father of Dorothy Lobrano Guth, original editor of the "Letters of E.B. White" (p. ix)
Russell & Kate Lord, Village friends; Russell, a TNY writer (pp. 19 & 101)
Harry Lyford, Cornell student & EBW friend (p. 217)
Russell Maloney, TNY writer (p. 137, ref. to his humor piece, "Inflexible Logic")
Deane Malott (1898-1996), Cornell University president; in that capacity, an apprehended plagiarist (pp. 342, 344-5), which is not mentioned in the glowing profile of president Malott currently featured on the Cornell University internet site in 2012)
Morris Markey, self-infatuated TNY writer (p. 166)
Don Marquis (1878-1937), newspaper columnist (p. 18; gruesome fate of, p. 171)
John McNulty (1895-1956), TNY writer (p. 101)
Anne Moore, children's books librarian (p. 192); succeeded by Frances Sayers (p. 279)
Christopher Morley (1890-1957), newspaper columnist (p. 18)
Charles Morton, author of Atlantic Monthly articles on the early TNY, which EBW admired (p. 500)
John Mosher, TNY notable (p. 102)
Charles Muller (p. 157; p. 203 bio: "Cornell friend & experienced sailor")
Ursula Nordstrom (1910-88), Harper & Row editor, children's books (p. ix)
Mary Petty (1899-1976) & Alan Dunn (1900-74), TNY artists (p. 101)
Ted Pratt, EBW friend (p. 335)
Henry Pringle (1897-1958), Cornell student; journalist (p. 23)
H.K. Rigg, friend & sailor (p. 122); nicknamed "Bun" (also the nickname of EBW's brother, Stanley)
Carl Rose (1903-71), TNY artist (p. 127)
Ed Sampson, another EBW biographer (1974; pp. 526, 576 & 648)
Eugene Saxon, Harper & Brother (later Harper & Row, etc.) publishers (p. 82)
Joel Sayre (1900-79), TNY notable & EBW friend (p. 101)
Caroline Sergeant ("Aunt Crully"), raised Katherine Sergeant (later, Katherine White) after Katherine's mother died (KS age 5; p. 83)
Ann Barrows Shepley, Katherine White's aunt; married a Japanese aristocrat; emigrated to & remained in Japan for the rest of her life (including during World War II; p. 191 fn)
Ik Shuman, yet another TNY managing editor (p. 178)
Martin Simpson, Cornell faculty (not in Index)
Albert & "Aunt Ruby" Smith, Cornell faculty & wife (p. 27)
Edmund Smith, editor, Ford Times (auto company newspaper; p. 369)
Muriel Spark (1918-2006; p. 534); TNY writer & Scottish novelist (yet another tragic ending for a TNY writer/associate, the public & ugly estrangement of/with her son)
Jonathan (Jon) Stableford, son of Nancy (Angell) Stableford (p. 356)
Katherine (Kitty) Stableford, daughter of Nancy (Angell) Stableford (p. 219)
Louis Stableford , m. Nancy Angell (EBW step-daughter) in 1941 (p. 219)
Sarah Stableford, daughter of Nancy (Angell) Stableford (not in Index)
H.A. Stevenson, friend, Cornell classmate (p. 401)
Will Strunk Jr. (1892-1946), Cornell faculty & original author of what later became "The Elements of Style," succeeding editions after Strunk's death were revised by E.B.W. (credited as a co-author; the by-now infamous "p. 18")
Frank Sullivan (1892-1976), Cornell student, journalist & famous humorist (p. 23)
James & Althea Thurber (J.T. 1894-1961; A.T. 1st wife, later divorced), Village friends; J.T. a famous (& ultimately, you guessed it, tragic) TNY humorist (p. 100)
Peter Vischer (b. ?-d. 1960s), Cornell student (p. 18); journalist, publisher & pre-WWII Nazi sympathizer; WWII U.S. Army officer; later, owner of Light The Fuse, famous racehorse (NYT headline, pay article,; a.n., NYT pay item, "Mrs. Peter Vischer" (TNY editor Gardner Botsford's mother, also see, "Ruth Fleishmann), obituary dated 06/09/50.
Harriet Walden, TNY office manager, succeeded Daisy Terry (p. 492)
Edward (Ted) Weeks, Atlantic Monthly editor (p. 557)
Albert White, brother of EBW (p. 4); m. Mildred Bigney; died 1964
Allene White, wife of Joel White, EBW's son (p. 386)
Clara White, sister of EBW (p. 4); m. Manton Wyvell (Wellsville NY, @ 50 miles NW of Wellsboro PA);
Wyvell successively went broke, had a mental breakdown, was institutionalized & then died in the 1930s; Clara turned her home into a boardinghouse; still alive in 1976.
Jessie Hart White, mother of EBW (p. 1)
Joel ("Joe") White (1930-97), son of EBW & Katherine White (p. x); half-brother of Nancy & Roger Angell;
m. Allene Messer; son Joel Steven ("Steve") White (born @ Dec. 1953; p. 386), inherited & is currently (2012) running Joel White's original boat business.
Katherine White (see Katherine Sergeant), wife of EBW
Lillian White, sister of EBW; m. Arthur Illian (yes, her married name was "Lillian Illian." The joke can be unwisely expanded if we allege that after they were married, they lived in Ilion, New York. As in "I ain't lying." ENOUGH.); WS broker (A.I. died 1947)
Marion White, sister of EBW; m. Arthur Brittingham; Marion died in 1959
Samuel White, father of EBW; birthdate 03/12/1854 (p. 388)
Stanley White, brother of EBW (the two were very close), m. Blanche Bigney; a born teacher, taught at Univ. of Illinois; 1976 alive, Denver; Stanley's nickname was "Bun," which was also H.K. Rigg's nickname
James Wiggins (1903-2000), executive editor, Washington Post; U.S. UN Ambassador to the U.N.; & publisher of the Ellsworth American (p. 569)
Garth Williams (1912-1996), book illustrator (p. 353)
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