January 24, 2006
I guess I first discovered E.B. White some time when I was a kid and read Charlotte’s Web. I don’t know that it made that great of an impression at the time — filed away as a memorable tale, of course, but I was really too young to get hooked on an author.
In college, I took several writing classes. One of the essays we were assigned was “Once More to the Lake.” I was hooked. So far, it’s the most memorable ending to any literary work I have encountered: “As he buckled the swollen belt suddenly my groin felt the chill of death.” We discussed White’s career in class, which was what got me turned on to The New Yorker. I’ve been a subscriber now for (count, count, count) fourteen years. Hard to believe (a minor chill of death in my groin just counting that up).
Over the next few years, I slowly tracked down and consumed various White writings — The Trumpet of the Swan, The Second Tree from the Corner, Stuart Little, One Man’s Meat. I also became a bit of New Yorker addict. I picked up E. J. Kahn’s memoir a few years after I graduated. I think I found out after reading it that he had died just a few months earlier (May 28, 1994). That gave me the basic New Yorker history — the Harold Ross vision, the stewardship of William Shawn, the days of E.B. White, Katherine Angell (later White), and James Thurber. I developed some sort of low-grade radar for New Yorker trivia. Wallace Shawn — character actor extraordinaire (think The Sicilian in The Princess Bride). Lots of Johns — John Lahr (theater critic and son of Bert Lahr, who was the lion in The Wizard of Oz) to John Updike (the Rabbit series of books — exquisitely describing one man’s middle class, self-disappointed Pennsylvania life) to Jonathan Franzen (award-winning author…who probably didn’t help his top line income by snubbing the listing of one of his books on Oprah’s Book Club).
A few years ago, I got a copy of Scott Elledge’s biography of E.B. White. That armed me with more trivia, but also provided me with insight into one of my current favorite New Yorker writers — Roger Angell. He is E.B. White’s stepson. Son of the independent, proper, brilliant Katherine Sergeant White (profiled by Nancy Franklin years ago in The New Yorker — did I mention I’m a fan of the magazine?).
Roger Angell is, to date, the only professional writer to whom I have ever actually written a letter. He’s a huge baseball fan and the son of Elwyn Brooks “Andy” White. How could I not write the guy? At least, I think I wrote him. I found a Roger Angell living at what seemed like a pretty swank Manhattan address, so that’s where I sent the letter. I never heard back, but I don’t really expect to. I gushed a bit.
And…I realize I don’t know where on earth I’m heading with this, and it’s getting late. 😉