Sunday, April 26, 2009

Strunk and White

I sometimes think putting Strunk's name first was less authorial modesty than a keen eye for the eye-catching name. Strunk sounds like the name of an old ballplayer: "Tinker to Evers to Strunk." "Strunk lines left; Robinson holds third." Strunk and White's little handbook is fifty this month.

Not everyone reveres Strunk and White's classic grammar, but most people set it on a shelf between the Bible and Catcher in the Rye. Holy writ, in other words.

Most picture E. B. White as a shy, avuncular man sitting at a typewriter by an open window on the coast of Maine. This is where he wrote One Man's Meat. Read him closely and his peculiarities come quietly through. After we see him being dragged kicking and screaming to kindergarten at age five (page 10 in A Book of Ages) it's hard to picture him without a white moustache. Otherwise his resumé includes a book about a mouse, one about a pig and a spider, hypochondria, wife-stealing, country life and a deep aversion to crowds. White appears five times in A Book of Ages.

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