Book Review, One Man’s Meat by the late E.B. White
One Man’s Meat by E.B. White, published in 1944 after the author typed it on his typewriter -- no computer’s in 1944 -- takes me back to nostalgic times and places. This place was his farm on the Blue Hill Peninsula. (Time of no computers is not nostalgic.)
Which is not all that far from our house at the very northern tip of that peninsula, where it connects with the mainland of Maine.
“I should, I am sure, remember the clear sparkling days, bright and cool, that come toward the end of summer.....” White wrote at the end of the book. As I write this, we are in the middle of the cold days of January, which only brings back those end-of-summer days as a distant memory. A distant memory seems to me to be what One Man’s Meat is all about.
That and thoughts about what was in the early 1940s a present reality, World War II, the economy, how the common man is faring in that economy, and other ideas that are somehow today’s as well as being from when White was writing in his oceanside study. Maybe while things are different today, things are also the same.
White, it seems to me, wrote with all of us in mind for all time -- or at least all American time. Also, he wrote with a background of New York City and his writing for The New Yorker. An interesting combination, this, the background of the city and the rural Maine countryside complete with the barn, the pickup, the cow, the geese, and all the rest that are from the farm.
“Started using lights on my pullets today,” he wrote in November of 1942.
That’s today. No, it’s the past. It’s also nostalgic, but White didn’t write nostalgia. He wrote the reality of the moment, such as the day he began using lights on his pullets because the November days were getting shorter.
But the reason I’ve read and reread One Man’s Meat is because of nostalgia. That’s nostalgia of rural living, which is easy to see in the names of the following chapters: “Removal” (getting to rural Maine from very non-rural New York City), “The Summer Catarrh,” “Incoming Basket,” “Salt Water Farm,” “A Week in April,” “Walden” (a somewhat cynical review of a trip White took to Walden Pond), and the “Flocks We Watch by Night.”
Other chapters dwelt with the economy and the challenge of World War II.
But it is the rural topics that grab this reader. In the chapter titled “April 1939”, he wrote in part, “Woke to find the wind blowing from the sea, and the sky overcast. Three starlings sat gloomily in the Balm o’ Gilead tree, awaiting better times, and in the plowed field some crows held a special meeting and took a vote. In an hour it was snowing.”
Those words show a bit of the author’s love of the land where he was located in the wind blowing from the sea, his cynicism and creativity as he observed the starlings (sitting gloomily??), and his creativity about the meeting of the crows, which obviously -- and cynically -- led to the snowstorm.
It’s that type of writing that pulls me back to E.B. White for it pulls me to the environment I love about which he writes in that paragraph.
He’s not dramatic, but a viewer of the simpler life.
And he helps me better view that simpler life.
The price on the cover is $14.95, when Tilbury House Publishers of Gardiner produced this copy of the book in 1997. A bargain, Amazon.com offers the same book for two dollars less.
White passed away in 1985, but he left a legacy well known to child and adult readers, featuring Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and the Trumpet of the Swan. Charlotte’s Web was named “top children’s novel” in a 2012 survey of School Library Journal readers.
All this from a New York writer, who moved to Maine.
Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Milton M. Gross Copyright 2013