Charlotte’s Web: A Model of Good Writing

Andy Naselli —  May 25, 2011 — 4 Comments

Last month Tony Reinke encouraged me to read E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web (1952) to my daughter. Not only would my daughter love it, but I could learn a lot about how to write better.

That was good advice. My daughter Kara and I read it together in late April and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was her first “chapter” book without pictures on every page. I watched the 1973-film several times as a child, but I had never read the book (nor have I seen the 2006-film).

E. B. White knows how to write. Simple. Clear. Elegant. Magical.

That didn’t just happen. White worked tirelessly at it. He revised Charlotte’s Web many times until the wording was just right. (White contributes to the first of the “Six Useful Books on Writing” I list here.)

I love how the book ends. Someday I hope my friends can say this of me: “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

4 responses to Charlotte’s Web: A Model of Good Writing

  1. One of my favorite books as a child was The Trumpet of the Swan, also by E. B. White. Another favorite was Stuart Little. I liked both of these better than Charlotte’s Web.

    Interestingly, while spending a day on jury duty a while back, one of the books in the waiting room was a book of interviews with authors, put out by the NY Times (I believe). Most of the authors I was unfamiliar with, but I knew of a few of them. I am pretty sure it was E. B. White who said in this interview that he hardly ever read anything else, even though everyone says you should read a lot to be a good writer.

    I wish I could remember the exact volume that was in because it was an interesting read, and contrary to what most say about being a good writer.

  2. A little further research I found this interview. He says,

    I was never a reader. I was arriving at conclusions almost independently of the entire history of the world. If I sat down to read everything that had been written—I’m a slow reader—I would never have written anything. My joy and my impulse was to get something down on paper myself.

  3. Charlotte’s Web is certainly a classic. My kids and I especially enjoyed listening to the author read his work via audio book recently. And it’s funny you point out White’s ability to write. Susan Wise Bauer actually recommends in her classical curriculum guide that parents get kids to write and memorize his sentences as a way to develop both handwriting and an ear for good storytelling.

    However, I will say that theme of compassion which is such a credit to the book can actually be a stumbling block to many in our culture. Compassion without Christ is very tempting to postmoderns….which is something I’ve written about in my own faith story, Behind the Bookcase.

  4. I remember reading Stuart Little a few years ago and thinking that it was well written. I have long been a fan of The Elements of Style (though I don’t always follow their rules). I don’t think I realized that this was the same White who wrote such good books.

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