It’s such a joy to read the book “Writings from the New Yorker” by E.B White. E.B White was an American writer. He was also a contributing editor to The New Yorker magazine. His sharpness, simpleness and humour shine throughout the book. Here are some of my favourite pieces:
- Man’s relation to Nature and man’s dilemma in society and man’s capacity for elevating his spirit beat all these matters together producing an original omelette from which people can draw nourishment in a hungry day.
- Life 9/1/45
At eight of a hot morning, the cicada speaks his first piece, He says of the world: heat. At eleven of the same day, still singing, he has not changed his note but has enlarged his theme. He says of the morning: Love. In the sultry middle of the afternoon, when the sadness of love and of heat has shaken him, his symphonic sold goes into the great movement and he says: death. But the thing isn’t over. After supper he weaves heat, love, death into a final stanza, subtler and less brassy than the others. He has one last heroic monosyllable at his command. Life, he says, reminiscing. Life.
- Summertime 8/12/44
Summertime this year is a ripe girl who finds herself forsaken by the boys, the ordinarily attentive and desirous boys. They are nowhere to be found; they have disappeared, the way makes do, seized by some sudden mechanical flirtation, some new interest of a passing sort. Summertime is a girl who knows they will be back and who is conscious that she herself is irresistible over the Long term, that her beauty and her accommodating ways have lost no fraction of their power. We had summertime practically to ourself the other afternoon, and in our guilt we lay with her in the name of all who were temporarily denied that privilege, admiring her incredible poise. The scent of her clothes was unmistakeable; her sea, her sand, her sky wore the same look as ever; the insects which are her private minstrels sang the same seductive measure. We have never seen a discarded female more sure of where she stood than summertime.
- Winter back yard
A city back yard on many a winter’s day is as shabby and unpromising a spot as the eye can rest on: the sour soil, the flaking surfaces of wall and fence, the bare branch, the doom-sprinkled sky. The tone of our back yard this past month, how-ever, has been greatly heightened by the presence of a number of juncos, the dressiest of winter bird, Even the drabbest hardscape achieves something like elegance when a junco alights in the foreground – a beautifully turned-out little character who looks as though he were on his way to an afternoon wedding.
- Turtle Blood Bank
Turtles rarely pass up a chance to relax in the sun on a partly submerged log. Now two turtles ever lunched together with the idea of promoting anything. No turtle ever went around complaining that there is no profit in book publishing except from the subsidiary rights. Turtles do not work day and night to perfect explosive devices that wipe out Pacific islands and eventually render turtles sterile. Turtles never use the word “implementation” or the phrases “hard core” and “in the last analysis, a turtle, although lacking know-how, knows how to live. A turtle, by its admirable habits, gets to the hard core of life. That may be why its arteries are so soft.
- Affair with humour
Liberty, like Reason, does not exist or manifest itself except by the constant disdain of its own works; it perishes as soon as it is filled with self-approval. That is why humour has always been a characteristic of philosophical and liberal genius, the seal of the human spirit, the irresistible instrument of progress. Stagnant peoples are always solemn peoples: the man of a people that laughs is a thousand times closer to reason and liberty that the anchorite who prays or the philosopher who argues.
- Humor — true liberty! It is you who deliver me from ambition for power from servitude to party, from respect for routine, from the pedantry of science, from admiration for celebrities, from the mystifications of politics, from the fanaticism of the reformers, from fear of this great universe, and from self-admiration.
Come, sovereign, turn a ray of your light on my fellow citizens; kindle in their soul a spark of your spirit, so that my confession may reconcile them to each other and so that this inevitable revolution may come about with serenity and joy.
- Life Phases
We are not sure we agree with President Roosevelt that seventy is the age when a Supreme Court judge should retire. If we must establish an arbitrary pension age, it should be either fifty or ninety, but not seventy. At seventy, men are just beginning to grow liberal again, after a decade or two of conservatism. Their usefulness to the state is likely to improve after the span of life which the bible allows them is complete. The men of eighty whom we know are on the whole a more radical, rip snorting lot than the men of seventy. They hold life cheaply, and hence are able to entertain generous thoughts about the state. It is in his fifty-to-seventy phase that a man pulls in his ears, lashes down his principles, and gets ready for dirty weather. Octogenarians have a more devil-may-care tactic: they are sometimes quite willing to crowd on some sail and see if they can’t get a burst of speed out of the old hooker yet.
A man’s liberal and conservative phases seem to follow each other in a succession of waves from the time he is born. Children are radicals. Youths are conservatives, with a dish of criminal negligence. Men in their prime are liberals ( as long as their digestion keeps pace with their intellect). The middle-aged, except in rare cases, run to shelter: they insure their life, draft a will, accumulate mementos and occasional tables, and hope for security. And then comes old age, which repeats childhood-a time full of hummers and sadness, but often full of courage and even prophecy.
- New York
The two moments when New York seems most desirable, when the splendour falls all round about and the city looks like a girl with leaves in her hair, are just as you are leaving and must say goodbye, and jus as you return and can say hello. We had one such moment of infatuation not long ago on a warm, airless evening in town, before taking leave of these shores to try another city and another country for a while. There seemed to be a green tree overhanging our head as we sat in exhaustion. All day the fans had sung in offices, the air-conditioners had blown their clammy breath into the rooms, and the brutal sounds of demolition had stung the ear – from buildings that were being knocked down by the destroyers who have no sense of the past. Above our tree, dimly visible in squares of light, the city rose in air. From an open window above us, a whiff of perfume or bath powder drifted down startlingly in the heavy night, somebody having taken a tub to escape the heat. On the tips of some of the branches, a few semiprecious stars settled themselves forest. There was nothing about the occasion that distinguished it from many another city evening, nothing in particular that we can point to to corroborate our emotion. Yet we somehow tasted New York on our tongue in a great, over-powering draught, and felt that to sail away from so intoxicating a place would be unbearable, even for a brief spell.
- Old coat
“It is not evert man,” our tailor writes, “that can afford to wear a shabby coat.” He hit home; for a shabby coat is our one extravagance, the one luxury we have been able to affect. Four winters, now, we have crept about the streets in the cold unkempt security of a battered Burberry – a thin, inadequate garment, pneumonia written in every seam, a disreputable coat, the despair of friends, the byword of enemies, a coat grown so gossamer like in texture that merely to catch sight of it hanging in the closet is to fell the chill in one’s marrows. What its peculiar charm is we don’t quite know 0 whether it is a sop to inelegance, a faint bid for a lost virility, or the simple gesture of the snob. Whatever its hold on us, it has gradually acquired the authentic gentility of an old lady’s limousine, but without any of the limousine’s protection against draughts. All we know is that ever icy blast that grips our blue abdomen, every breeze that climbs the shin, feeds the dying fires of our once great spirit; and that as we shrink deeper into the shabbiness of this appalling garment, we find a certain contentment that no tailor could possibly afford us, for all his engraved announcements.
- He liked to test ideas on his tongue before swallowing them.