Saturday, August 25, 2012

One Man's Meat by E.B. White

E.B. White at his writing table
(Photo by Jill Krementz)
Today I am reading my new (old) copy of One Man's Meat which is #8 on my List of 10. I have a paperback edition with this lovely black and white photo of Mr. White sitting at his wooden writing table in his writer's shed. An open window shows water and coastline in the background. On his desk are a typewriter, what looks to be an ashtray, and some sort of small basket perhaps used to hold pencils or erasers. The photo was taken by Jill Krementz and is included in her book The Writer's Desk (which I wrote about here.)

The new (old) book was published in 1944. It has a green cloth hardback cover. I bought it yesterday at a used book fair. It is smaller in size - 5 inches by 8 inches - and lighter than the paperback which measures 6 inches by 9 inches. The 1944 edition is much easier to hold. The 1997 paperback is stiff and a bit too big to rest comfortably in my hands. It is also perfect bound which means to doesn't want to open flat.

Let's put these essays themselves in context. First, Mr. White was about 40 years old when he wrote them - he was born in July 1899.  They were written right before and during World War II. (There is a note on the copyright page that the book was "manufactured in strict conformity with Government regulations for saving paper.") His first children's book, Stuart Little, wouldn't be published until 1945 and Charlotte and Wilbur of Charlotte's Web wouldn't be born until 1952.

These are really journal musings that Mr. White wrote for Harper's Magazine between 1938 and 1942. They were written from his Maine farm and contain many references to chickens, turkeys, seeds, foxes, dirt roads, dogs, eggs, and other farmish things. There is mention of goings on in the world, but mostly these are the thoughts of a man living the seasons on his farm.

Now why would an urban woman living in the 21st century want to read the thoughts of a man living in the countryside and written over 70 years ago. Well, for one thing, the writing is as crisp and clear as the morning air on Mr. White's farm. He wants to write about chickens? I have chickens living next door to me. He wants to write about the weather? I have experience with rain, snow, drought, and the turning of leaves. He wants to write about his neighbors? I have neighbors; they just live closer than his. He wants to write about war? I read and hear about war - in whatever country the U.S. happens to be fighting in - every day.

Looking at it like that, there don't seem to be many differences, do there?

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