Since I wrote my first post about five things you probably didn’t know about E.B.White, I’ve been reading more and more of his work (mostly his essays) and becoming more and more interested in his life as a writer. I recently read The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E.B.White’s Eccentric Life In Nature and the Birth of an American Classic by Michael Sims and discovered some things about White. So here are five more things you probably didn’t know about E.B.White:
He wasn’t a book nerd as a kid.
He liked reading, but it was hardly his favourite thing to do. He preferred being outside, playing in the barn or with whatever animals were around. Even in his later years he would spend a lot of time outside in nature, surrounded by animals.
He worried. A lot.
While riding the subway in the New York he worried that the train engineer would die and the train would crash. He was preoccupied with his health and paid attention to every sniffle, every ache. During a trip to Florida, he convinced himself that he was dying of a brain tumour because his face was swollen. Turns out he just had a sunburn.
He wasn’t a very disciplined writer.
He told his editor at Harper’s: “I want to write when and if I feel like it.” The commitment didn’t come naturally to him, and he admitted to turning in subpar work just to meet a deadline. The urge to write was unpredictable. He never really knew when he would feel like writing or what he would feel like writing about. Because of this, it took him awhile to finish Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web. “I would rather wait a year than publish a bad children’s book, as I have too much respect for children.”
He was slightly obsessed with spiders.
Whether it was the spiders he observed in his barn (which were ultimately the inspiration for Charlotte’s Web) or the spiders in the books he spent months obsessively studying, you could say that E.B.White was very interested in spiders. Once, he cut down an egg sac from his barn and put it in an empty candy box. He put that box on his desk in New York and soon hundreds of tiny, barely visible spiders were crawling out of the air holes he punched in the box and making themselves at home in his desk. He didn’t have a problem with them, but his maid threatened to quit if he didn’t get rid of them. Charlotte was a combination of his intense scientific research and his incredible imagination.
He hated publicity.
He left town on his birthday just to avoid reporters. He didn’t attend his beloved wife Katherine’s private burial service just to avoid being out at a somewhat public event. Even at his own funeral, Roger Angell said: “If Andy White could be with us today, he would not be with us today.”