Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Review: "The Story of Charlotte's Web: E. B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic"

From past experience, I’ve found that writing a book about another book’s genesis is very difficult. The resulting works are usually somewhere between interesting but unexplored minutiae or gushy biography. Luckily, Michael Sims manages to avoid both pitfalls in The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E. B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic. Tracing White’s life from his childhood to his tenure at The New Yorker to his writing of Charlotte’s Web, Sims manages to write a deft and thoughtful examination of the author, his writing style, and his curious, and fascinating, relationship with nature.

Although the book certainly has slow patches (the opening chapters in particular seemed to take a while to get going ), overall it is very enjoyable and incredibly detailed. What’s more, almost everything that Sims includes in the book, from White’s hesitancy regarding romance to his experiences farming in Maine, relates to the book’s ultimate focus. While it might not have been entirely clear when starting the book why Sims opted to describe Samuel White’s manner of speech in the early chapters in such detail, the payoff is seeing the parallels between E. B. White’s father and John Arable, one of the characters in Charlotte’s Web. Even more impressive is that Sims trusts his readers’ patience and intellect; rather than dropping early hints about this, Sims presents the information without apology and only mentions the connection briefly when describing the character later in the book.

All in all, The Story of Charlotte’s Web is a fascinating and insightful look at E. B. White and the factors that led him to write Charlotte’s Web. Sims’s account of White’s life and habits is thorough and well-researched, and his writing clearly conveys his affection and admiration for his subject without being obsequious. Fans of White and Charlotte’s Web will undoubtedly enjoy this book and learn more about the work and man who wrote it.