Wednesday, May 25, 2011

E. B. White on Reading and Writing

Andy Naselli has a short post today about author E. B. White’s book Charlotte’s Web. He (E. B., not An.dy.) is also the author of one of my favorite books growing up, The Trumpet of the Swan. as well as children’s favorite Stuart Little.

Andy’s post reminded me of a post I almost wrote about a year ago.

At that time, while sitting in the jury room awaiting my opportunity to serve my fellow citizens (is jury duty missional???), I came across a book of interviews of authors, published by the New York Times (I believe).

I was unfamiliar with most of the authors, but I am almost sure that one of them was E. B. White. The reason it stuck out to me was because of White’s comments about reading. He said he barely ever read anything.

I can’t seem to find the book now, but I did find a few other articles about E. B. White that were interesting.

In an interview with the NY Times, he said, “I was never a reader. I was arriving at conclusions almost independently of the entire history of the world. If I sat down to read everything that had been written--I'm a slow reader--I would never have written anything. My joy and my impulse was to get something down on paper myself.”

I tend to believe this a good reminder for pastors preparing sermons. As bad as it sounds, I think we should do less reading, at least in the early stages of sermon preparation. Spend your time in the text, hours just reading, rereading, jotting notes, drawing lines, underlining words, making connections between verses and ideas. At this stage, use outside sources only to clarify meanings of words and to establish basic historical context where necessary.

Only after this work should we go to commentaries.

White also makes some other fascinating comments about writing.

A writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.
(Writers at Work, Eighth Series, Penguin, 1988) (Here).


It is my belief that no writer can improve his work until he discards the dulcet notion that the reader is feebleminded, for writing is an act of faith, not of grammar. Ascent is at the heart of the matter. A country whose writers are following the calculating machine downstairs is not ascending--if you will pardon the expression--and a writer who questions the capacity of the person at the other end of the line is not a writer at all, merely a schemer. The movies long ago decided that a wider communication could be achieved by a deliberate descent to a lower level, and they walked proudly down until they reached the cellar. Now they are groping for the light switch, hoping to find the way out (Here).

And are a few bonus quotes from the NY Times piece. I repeat them here because I think they are great, but don’t really fit the theme of reading or writing.

"I lived in an age when parents weren't scared of their children; they commanded respect, enforced discipline and maintained an orderly household. It can still be done, but the motor car and the TV have clearly added to the burden of the task of discipline and of communication."


I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day."


I do have a tremendous respect for anyone who does something extremely well, no matter what. I would rather watch a really gifted plumber than listen to a bad poet. I'd rather watch someone build a good boat than attend the launching of a poorly constructed play.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Problem. It is easy to identify a good plumber. A lot harder to identify a good poet because that is often a subjective opinion.