We’re reading Charlotte’s Web at my house. It’s the first “chapter book” that we’ve done together and it’s an extraordinary way to end a busy day. The plus is that we currently have a good sized yellow and black spider in residence right against the kitchen window so we spend a few minutes each day checking into her day’s activities. Imagine our crazed delight to find her egg sac up under the eaves and our worry now that the nights are getting cold. All is greatness. For me, however, this experience has been profound.
There are a great many writers out there who can tell a good story (and make a good living at it) but have never once come up with a line are so perfect I am left breathless. There are authors who write that kind of line all the time but create works that are so dense and complicated I have no idea what they are trying to say. I have a certain appreciation for each, but my awe is reserved for writers like E.B. White, contributor to the New Yorker magazine and the White of Strunk & White’s Element’s of Style. With casual grace White tells a wonderful story larded with lines that have stopped me in my tracks over the past few nights.
Different things will resonate for a reader at different ages. I learned this truth when I read Winnie-the-Pooh in college. What had been a precious, silly story was suddenly hilarious, particularly the words Milne chose to capitalize. Charlott’e Web struck different chords. Never mind that White is such a master he puts the reader so vividly in the scene one can smell the hayloft, taste the blackberries and get worn down from the heat at the county fair. No. The amazing thing about this “simple” story about a working farm is that nothing about it is simple. It isn’t just a story of a literate spider and a Spring pig. It’s the story of parent and child, it’s a matter-of-fact discussion of food production and it’s a non-stop natural history lesson. Chapter 15, The Crickets, was nearly the end of me with it’s gentle admonition that we must all accept the inexorable turns of the wheel of time. Above all, this story is a pitch perfect reminder to the adult reader, beset with daily worries and traumas, that spider’s webs are miracles and we should always “be on the watch for the coming of wonders.”
So, gentle reader, what delights have you rediscovered in the books of your childhood?