Sunday, July 12, 2009

Plain and Powerful

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. ~EB White

Yesterday was EB White's birthday, so I got to thinkin' about one of his most famous books.

My students have a weekly assignment where they analyze their self-selected independent reading to find examples of writers tools, craft and convention. On a day when we were working on figurative language, a student came over to me, book in hand. "I can't find any examples in here," she complained. I hear that pretty often, and I asked for the book so I could look myself. I was pleased to see that it was Charlotte's Web, and certain I could find at least a simile or a metaphor, I skimmed through quickly at first, but then slowed down. She was right-- there were no ready examples of what we sought. Intrigued, I thought about it later, and realized that the prose is purposefully straight-forward and exact-- the vernacular of a farm in Maine.

The writing is far from sterile, however, as generations of readers know well. When I was in second grade, my teacher read Charlotte's Web aloud to us, and I clearly remember the tears rolling down my cheeks and those of my classmates on the afternoon that she read that penultimate chapter, Last Day. Recently, I heard a radio piece about E.B. White's recording of the audio version of the book. According to his producer, they did 17 takes of the final part of that chapter, because White broke down every time he read it. If you haven't revisited Charlotte's Web in a while, at least take a look at that chapter when you have the chance-- there is amazing power in the simple prose and concrete details.

As I was writing this, a tiny spider crawled up and over my arm. She was quick, but I was able to catch her in my hand and carry her outside to set her free. It was the least I could do.

1 comment:

  1. Boy do I relate to EB White's comment. So far, my day is losing to enjoy--and I'm enjoying catching up with your blog.

    Thanks for writing this summer--through thick and thin and vacation and worktime and uptime and downtime.