Friday, February 04, 2011

A Pleasant Cure

A friend replied to a recent email of mine: "The list of authors I have not read never ceases to embarrass and amaze me. However, there is a very pleasant cure for such things."

I agree. At fancy and not-so-fancy dinner parties with literary, intellectual, highly-educated types, I find myself struggling to remember the plots of novels I've read, the names of the authors who wrote them, and the titles of poems that moved me. I remember a phrase, but I can't quote it perfectly. I remember the feeling or color I got from reading a poem, novel, story, or excellent phrase, which is much harder to quote. I can recall whether what made me laugh or cry was on a right-facing or left-facing page, at the top or the bottom, in the book where I read it (my husband also has this quirk of memory).

I'm not totally ashamed by my shortcomings in reading. There is a very pleasant cure for such things, as my friend said. One of my favorite writers is E.B. White.

Books of E.B. White I have not yet read:

The Lady is Cold - Poems by E.B.W. (1929)
The Trumpet of the Swan (1970)

Books of E.B. White I have partially read:

Is Sex Necessary? Or, Why You Feel the Way You Do (1929, with James Thurber)
Here Is New York (1949)

Books of E.B. White I have read completely:

Essays of E.B. White (1977)
One Man's Meat (1942)
Stuart Little (1945)
Charlotte's Web (1952)
The Second Tree From The Corner (1954)
The Elements of Style (with William Strunk, Jr.) (1959, republished 1972, 1979, 1999, 2005)

I have a biography of E.B. White that I haven't even touched. There's a collection of his essays and poems that I didn't cite in my partial list because I can't remember the title of it. I've read a short piece of his simply titled "Note" in a 1950 New Yorker magazine (upper right of right-facing page) that reflects on a forgotten actor in a restaurant.

In Charlotte's Web, Wilbur says:

"What do you mean less than nothing? I don't think there is any such thing as less than nothing. Nothing is absolutely the limit of nothingness. It's the lowest you can go. It's the end of the line. How can something be less than nothing? If there were something that was less than nothing, then nothing would not be nothing, it would be something - even though it's just a very little bit of something. But if nothing is nothing, then nothing has nothing that is less than it is."

This appears on the lower portion of a right-facing page in the edition that I own. In fancy conversations about books I admit I feel like nothing, but I do know that my combined reading experiences account for something. I consider myself lucky to have days filled with books that I can pull from shelves and sink into, or lazily peruse. I hope it is alright that I can't quote verbatim, that I forget author names, plots, and titles. When a writer makes me laugh out loud, or connects me to another writer, or gives me an "aha!" moment that connects me to the larger world (not just the world of letters), I feel appreciative and warmed by the light of genius.

1 comment:

Dona said...

I didn't realize there was so much E.B. White I'd not read. Trumpet of the Swan is a favorite though, along with Charlotte's Web. I never liked Stuart Little much. Don't know why,