Onward And Upward In The Garden

I admit I have been lax about reading and reviewing lately so perhaps it’s time to offer an explanation.  I have become, finally, a gardener.  And it is Spring.  And I can hardly take the time to dress after waking to rush from the bed to the garden to see what has happened.  Because a garden is a miracle, and no more so than in an unseasonably warm Spring when everything is behaving not as it should but as we hoped for.  Today, however, when the sun finally disappeared behind the thick grey curtain of fog and clouds I went indoors and wandered about a bit.  I felt, quite honestly, bereft.  I tried this and that to amuse myself but it was difficult to start anything when every few minutes I kept rushing to the windows to see if the sun had come out in the garden.  Needless to say, it had not.

No worries however, for I soon figured out what to do and picked up a favorite books of mine by the late fiction editor of The New Yorker, Katharine S. White.  Everything about this book is wonderful if you love to garden as much as I do.  Like any avid gardener Katharine was a reader and collector of garden catalogues and this book consists of her reviews of them, as well as her thoughts in general about the garden. The reviews themselves originally appeared in The New Yorker in the 1950’s and what a surprise it must have been at the time to elevate the seed and garden catalogues of the day in the pages of the magazine.  An editor and writer of great note on her own Katharine was also married to E. B. White, who provides a fine introduction to this excellent volume.  I highly recommend anyone who takes an interest in the earth beneath us put this book by their bedside to dip into when it is too cold or dark to venture out into the garden itself.  It is a truly wonderful volume for the gardener and writer in all of us.

“As I write snow is falling outside my Maine window and indoors all around me half a hundred garden catalogues are in bloom.” — Katharine S. White

Charlotte’s Web

Blogging about E. B. White on National Grammar Day put his all time classic Charlotte’s Web into my head and now I find I can not get it out.  This is one of the very first books I remember reading, and I can tell you exactly when and where I was when I received it.  Christmas morning, 18 degrees below zero, a new pair of pajamas, a fire in the grate and a brand new book by someone I had never heard of before in my then very short life.  Little did I know when I cracked the spine what awaited me.  Life.  Death.  Friendship.  And everything in between explained in the gentle tones of a talking spider hanging by E. B. White’s imaginary thread.  Needless to say I reread this classic this week and I can only say it stands the test of time.  Do not see the movie.  Do not buy the audio book.  Sit down and turn the pages slowly, stopping to linger over the beautiful illustrations by Garth Williams and open your mind and heart.  You will be rewarded.  I promise.  It is some book.

“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”
― E.B. WhiteCharlotte’s Web

“Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”
― E.B. WhiteCharlotte’s Web

“Trust me, Wilbur. People are very gullible. They’ll believe anything they see in print.”
― E.B. WhiteCharlotte’s Web

The Elements of Style

If language has a holiday, does that mean today we can stop fussing over how we say what we have to say? Well, today is National Grammar Day and for my part I can only hope the name alone is enough to cause bloggers, texters, and twitterers to stop in their tracks since, sadly, as our methods of communications change, the very idea of “rules” for language have fallen by the wayside.  With this in mind, today is probably an excellent opportunity to pause and consider the simple, but brilliant, book by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White which has been the standard “how to” for over fifty years.  Fear not, it isn’t a dry manual of rules and regulations.  It is an eloquently simple book.  Pick it up and put it out and have it on hand.  Consult it as you might a much-loved cookbook.  There’s even a recent edition with illustrations by the great Maira Kalman to help you along.  Note to self: Blog Maira Kalman.  She is a genius.

“A schoolchild should be taught grammar–for the same reason that a medical student should study anatomy. Having learned about the exciting mysteries of an English sentence, the child can then go forth and speak and write any damn way he pleases.”
― E.B. WhiteWritings from the New Yorker 1927-1976