Content Tagged ‘E.B. White’

A special sentence structure

July 17, 2017 | 15 Comments

Writer, know thy own demon

July 27, 2016 | 12 Comments

Writing takes energy. The hot weather system lying across America has sapped mine. Or maybe it’s allergies—an early ragweed bloom. Like an old timer of yore, I find my body casts its own vote via joints and sinuses. My former doctor, a great technician, used to scoff about complaints regarding intangibles like atmospheric pressure—he’d actually laugh in my face—but I knew what I felt. Writing this took two medicinal pots of coffee.

When my book appeared two years ago, my blog took a hit—all circuits were busy. Maybe that’s just focus—but focus is, or bespeaks, a form of energy. The other thing I know for sure is a writer embeds energy in prose or poetry. I’ve always said readers go to writing to experience another’s emotional reality, but if they don’t find energy there, they leave. You can feel it, the energy in words and sentences.

Major illness is one thing, but how annoying when something like pollen pulls your plug. E.B. White wrote about the debilitating effect of allergies. The malaise they cause. Periodically, and when ragweed blooms in late summer, sometimes I exist in a stupor, dosing myself with Claratin, Alka-Seltzer, chocolate, caffeine.

However bad I feel, I’m always grateful when I realize the cause is physical. Because lack of energy mimics depression. The body is literally depressed, when flooded with histamines. So that’s the feeling the mind experiences. Regardless of cause, it’s hard enough to exist in peace, let alone to run a startup donut chain or write a novel when you lack physical or psychic energy. Dorothea Brande’s classic Becoming a Writer is really about how to nurture yourself as a person and writer so you can steadily work.

Of course, Brande’s advice concerns not illness but mental or emotional blockages. In that realm, what roils my moods is fear. Where it comes from, I don’t know. But when the writing is especially hard and discouraging, I’ve learned to suspect that old foe.

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A true farmer & a good writer

December 4, 2013 | 14 Comments

During the years I worked on Shepherd: A Memoir, I learned that literary folk interested in country matters wanted to know my agrarian pedigree was pure. Maybe that I had one. Those early draft-readers wanted assurance that I’d read Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson. At first this irked me. Sure, I knew their work. Their writings on agriculture and American society have informed my thinking from early adulthood; Berry’s Jayber Crow is one of my all-time favorite novels.

But why was it crucial that I let readers of my story know that?

From the start, Shepherd explored my boyhood hero worship of Ohio farm memoirist Louis Bromfield; and my being influenced as a practitioner by Bromfield’s more pragmatic eco-farming successor, Joel Salatin; and my discovery of Charles Allen Smart’s classic memoir, RFD, set in the same region where I ended up struggling to become a farmer. Plus my day job was in publishing, so there was plenty more about books in my memoir.

I finally decided that concerns about my literary lineage were a kind of backhanded praise. As if those readers were saying, “This book is by a writer, not just some farmer.” So I dutifully mentioned Berry and Jackson.

Now it strikes me as odd that nobody mentioned E.B. White.

It is not often that someone comes along who is a true farmer and a good writer. White was both.

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My top 10 essays of all time

September 14, 2013 | 11 Comments

Not that you asked. Yet who can resist such lists? Not me. Even if they are ridiculous. There are so many great essays, how can any reader limit himself to ten? Imagine doing that with short stories. But recently I got sucked into reading a list of others’ favorites, and so I made my own. Even as I wrote it, I began to disagree with it.

My top essays are listed in more or less chronological order—but also somewhat in rank order, only because an essay like “Never Thirteen,” a source for me of such delight and admiration, is so recent that no one else, to my knowledge, has ratified its greatness. So I am ahead of the curve—or just quirky. And seeing someone expose his peculiar taste is a good reason to read his list.

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An essay of the empty nest

October 14, 2012 | 33 Comments

My “Wild Ducks,” a braided memoir, appears in River Teeth. The past few years, working on my memoir of farming in Appalachia, I’ve generated tons of material—twice, 500 pages—and have spun some passages into stand-alone pieces. The published ones include an essay on my hired hand who died; another about a legendary pond-builder with a tragic secret; one about the historic first meeting of my future wife and my father; yet another about my father’s return to farming in retirement …

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For the well-read writer . . .

December 11, 2009 | One Comment

If there’s a writer of any stripe on your holiday gift list, you could do worse than to buy The Paris Review Interviews, Vols. 1-4, a new boxed set that collects the journal’s fifty years of interviews with famous and emerging writers. (Take note, Claire and Tom!) E.B. White (1899–1985), gifted essayist and author of immortal children’s books, sat down for his interview with The Paris Review in 1969. The New Yorker’s great stylist, candid to the point of self-effacement, …

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