When it was first published in 1977, I bought two copies of Essays of E.B. White — one for myself and one as a birthday present for my mother. I actually knew little of E.B. White at the time, being aware of him primarily as a writer for The New Yorker (although I could not have called to mind any specific pieces he had written for it) and as the person who updated, expanded, and caused to be reissued William Strunk, Jr.'s wonderful little book, The Elements of Style, which I had encountered in the course of obtaining my Baccalaureate Degree in Journalism from the University of Minnesota. I confess that I was unaware of his marvellous fiction, and, in fact, might well have steered away from his essays had I realized he'd written Charlotte's Web, which, unread, I ignorantly thought of as some treacly little children's book.
The Essays appealed to my pretensions of erudition so I flattered myself by buying it. As a birthday present for my mother it functioned along similar lines. Having grown up in a house where the current copy of The New Yorker arrived each week by mail and where reading was highly encouraged by the simple method of example, I felt my parents deserved the credit for my love of books. I assumed, perhaps erroneously, that my mother was the more "literary" of the two, as my father appeared to have a tendency to prefer sports biographies and histories, so I reckoned she was the natural recipient for this book of essays.
Since that time, what with one thing and another, the book has sat unread — first upon my shelf, then in storage as I travelled the country, and finally on our shelf. (I do not know the fate of my mother's copy, except to say that I've noticed it still has a place upon her bookshelf, so at the very least she hasn't discarded it.)
A couple of weeks ago, seeking a respite from my current diet of Torah, Tanakh, commentaries, apologies, explanations, exegeses, expansions, and interpretations, and histories of the Jewish people, I plucked the Essays from the shelf.
What a wonder! What a thing of joy and beauty! Mr. White is a fine, fine essayist. He has a gift for observation and a knack for presentation. Not only enjoyable in and of themselves, his lush and vivid environmental descriptions also serve as framing devices to illume his thoughts upon the great issues of the day — perhaps of the ages. I am deeply moved.
What's more, I am enjoying this book far more fully now than ever I would have, having acquired over the years a depth of experience and knowledge and an appreciation for writing which existed as mere potential during my more callow youth. I fear that had I read it then, I might not have come to it now, when I more fully appreciate it. Isn't life wonderful?