E.B. White: Not Just for Kids

boats in harbor

I spend too much time reading (and mostly dismissing) boat blogs on the internet.  While logic tells me that time spent on the computer is time not spent sailing, I keep searching for a maritime muse.  Somewhere out there, the perfect blog is waiting for me.

If the author of this blog only wrote one essay, it would probably start, “Waking or sleeping, I dream of boats – usually of rather small boats under a slight press of sail.  When I think how great a part of my life has been spent dreaming the hours away and how much of this total dream life has concerned small craft, I wonder about the state of my health, for I am told that it is not a good sign to be always voyaging into unreality, driven by imaginary breezes.”

He would further describe the affliction known as sailing in a way that made it seem normal, acceptable even.  “If a man must be obsessed by something, I suppose a boat is as good as anything, perhaps a bit better than most,” he’d counsel.

With passages like, “lacking instruction, I invented ways of getting things done, and usually ended by doing them in a rather queer fashion,” he’d make you feel alright about how your brain freezes up when you need to tie a knot in front of a fellow sailor.

Of course he would recognize that sailing, even on your tranquil local river or lake, was a thrill, “as though I had seized hold of a high tension wire and could not let go.”

Lastly, he would reveal the mystery and wonder of the sea, “that imparts life to me: the cruel beauty of the salt world, the barnacle’s tiny knives, the sharp spine of the urchin, the stinger of the sun jelly, the claw of the crab.”

Alas, the author is long dead.  Although he was a prolific writer; funny, smart, and highly observant, he never lived to see the dawn of the internet age and frankly I don’t think he would have liked it.  His specialty was paper.  He wrote many a book and essay.  His name was E.B. White.

When you think of White, if you think of him at all, you might remember your favorite children’s books: Charlotte’s Web, Trumpet of the Swan, or Stuart Little.  If you stopped with those, you would be missing some of his other works that might appeal to you more now that you’re old enough to buy your own books.  For you writers, it might be Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.  Yes, that White is E.B. too.  His strength is in the personal essay though.  Read One Man’s Meat to get a glimpse of some of his best or catch great stories about New York City in Here is New York.

And as for his writing about the sea?  There isn’t much, but when you have an essay as good as “The Sea and the Wind that Blows,” maybe, one is enough.

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6 thoughts on “E.B. White: Not Just for Kids

  1. Stunning. I have a collection of E.B. White first editions (Thurber first editions too) but I hadn’t read this piece. The good news is that E.B. White lived and wrote. The bad news is that his writing humbles the rest of us. Thanks for letting me see it.

  2. As White himself once said, “it is not often that someone comes along who is both a true friend and a good writer.” You, Mr. Bateau, are both.

  3. A thoughtful essay and description of the stages of life- the exuberance of youth, experience and risk in the middle years, tempered caution and questions as we age. It sheds some light on the draw of the boat- solitude, respite, challenge, and fear -all depending on how the wind blows.

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