Determined to keep this daily blogging up, I have run into the inevitable [at least for me] writer’s block, and have turned to the WordPress.com people who have a, “365 Days of Writing Prompts” ebook. Ever the helpful pusher, those people.
These are mostly too personal, potentially pointless, or Pooter-esque for me, but I did like this prompt, so here goes:
What was your favorite book as a child? Did it influence the
person you are now?
Like many, E.B. White’s children’s books–Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and the Trumpet of the Swan--were the guiding stars of my childhood reading. My parents read Stuart Little to me at bedtime in first grade, but I was able to read Charlotte’s Web by myself in second grade, crying the night I finished it, and going down stairs to see my parents. There my father, in a moment that has stayed with me, explained that the wonderful thing about books was that I could return to the start, read again, and Charlotte and the farmyard gang would all be there, and alive as ever. That both my parents comforted me on crying over a book offered a validation (sometimes missing in other aspects of my childhood) made me realize that reading would be front and center in my life, as indeed it was in theirs.
Whether Charlotte, Wilbur, Templeton and Fern influenced me is harder to discern, but certainly White’s lean, polished, gently humorous prose did calibrate something in me. It may be hard to imagine the extent to which he was the gold standard for writing in the mid-century. His essays were given as models for my school writing exercises, and his way of being a writer, complete with his reluctant status as a sage; even leaving New York for a small town in Maine seemed the vision of cranky Yankee ‘lit’ry’ idealism for me. (That said, I was not exactly hankering to be the next Hunter Thompson or Norman Mailer though. )
He has held up for me, most of all the rhythm of his prose and a style, notable in descriptive passages, where you seldom catch him “writing.” That said, it is odd that he was such a paragon for writing students. What is beautiful about his writing is as distinct to him as a fingerprint: that prose rhythm, and a sense, really a New Yorker sensibility of humor. (Almost completely gone from the magazine today.) The things I loved about him were the things that were most elusive to a beginning writer. The visible bits, structure and rhetoric, which in theory you could take apart and assess, were often mystifying to me. Even The Elements of Style, which is still a charmer, is a little thin literally and figuratively when it comes to practical writing advice. And what is there, I have practically made a career of avoiding.
Still, the feelings, aspirations, and fantasies of childhood and adolescent reading must stay with any writer, and I’m sure that I’m shaped even by those essays I couldn’t parse. One thing I suspect: he wouldn’t have abided rambling, self-indulgent blog entries, so best to finish it up, with the the hope that I have inspired you to read the man himself.
“The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.”