EB White on why he wrote Charlotte's Web: "A book is a sneeze"


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According to Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, one should eschew the passive voice. The first sentence should be rewritten in the active voice to make it more forceful and direct. For example, “Readers have asked me to tell how I came to write ‘Charlotte’s Web.’”


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The essence of art is knowing when to break the rules. Art cannot be created by algorithm.

That said, my favorite part of Strunk and White is when they use my home town paper, the Chattanooga News-Free Press, as an example of a merger occasioning an unfortunate hyphen.


Funny. Ward Christensen said the same thing about inventing the MODEM protocol.

“I had a task. I wrote a program to do it. It was like I did nothing more than a sneeze. Now, people are thanking me for the sneeze.”

Maybe Ward had read EB White.

As much as I like this, my favorite quote of E.B. White’s will be one he gave in response to criticisms of all the death in Charlotte’s Web:

“I am working on a new book about a boa constrictor and a litter of hyenas. The boa constrictor swallows the babies one by one, and the mother hyena dies laughing.”

This is also pleasantly timely, as I’ve just found an Aranea cavatica in my yard. I make a special effort to find one every year, and cycle through the names. This year it’s Charlotte. Next year it’ll be Joy.

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I enjoy the aesthetics of fractals too much to agree with that statement.

But can’t something be beautiful, awe inspiring and absolutely wonderful (like fractals) without being art?

Perhaps the typing has changed my mind. An artificially constructed fractal can very well be art (Mandelbulb comes to mind), while the fractal aspect of a coastline isn’t art, however beautiful.

OK, I’m convinced, some fractals are art.

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