The Big Read Blog (Archive)

RIP, E.B. White

Cover image of One Man's Meat by E. B. White, courtesy of Tilbury House, Publishers. Photo by Jill Krementz

On October 1, 1985, the avuncular writer Elwyn Brooks White left this world for a better place. Almost 30 years and one week later, I wanted to highlight the author of  Stuart Little (1945) and Charlotte's Web (1952), who I've revered since I was a child. Curiously, it wasn't until my late 20s that I fully grasped just how complex and insightful White was. While living in Portland, Maine, in 2005, I took a drive up to his old home in North Brooklin, where White recorded his observations of a local saltwater farm. These observations would later fill the pages of One Man's Meat (1942), a book that underscores the humanity of a man too profound to measure. Several of these essays were featured in the New Yorker. His dispatches---succinct, powerful accounts of day-to-day living---still resonate in 2012, and not just to Mainers. Like the heartbreaking and inspiring Charlotte's Web, White freely shared with the world his uncanny gift to gracefully report on what matters most in life: friendship, love, honesty.

In honor of E.B., let's listen to the emotional climax of Charlotte's Web as read by the man himself. SPOILER ALERT. If you've never read this classic you may not want to listen just yet. And if it's been awhile since you have read it, here's the deal. Wilbur (the pig) is about to discover that Charlotte, the spider and his dear friend, is dying and won't be returning to Zuckerman's farm where they live with several other animals including a rat named Templeton. Charlotte is drained after tirelessly working to save Wilbur from becoming bacon. Because of her efforts, she saves Wilbur's life. You may want to have a tissue at the ready. To life and living! [6:11]

Psst. A secret behind-the-scenes fact: When E.B. White recorded this, he had to do three takes of the scene when Charlotte dies because he kept getting choked up.

[audio:http://bigreadblog.arts.gov/audio/EBWhite1.mp3]

[transcript]

Excerpt of Charlotte's Web read by E.B. White used by permission of Listening Library, an imprint of the Random House Audio Publishing Group

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