Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘E.B. White’

Writers on Reading

In Books, Literature, Reading, Writers, Writing on February 25, 2013 at 6:00 am

It strikes me as cheap and lazy to happen across a page of quotes, a quote being the fastest exit on the highway such that you don’t have to drive any longer. Despite my distrust of the quote, I enjoy reading them. And, yes, I plug them in with abandon, being if nothing else, too often cheap and lazy. Montaigne said somewhere that he includes a quote in his work because someone said previously better what he stuggles to say now. Or something like that, I should look up it.

So, given reading as a subject, a worthy subject we often consider here at “…the house…“, I have transcribed below quotes on the subject from those who know it best, writers. I hope you enjoy.

Truman Capote:

I have a passion for newspapers…read all the New York dailies every day, and the Sunday editions of several foreign magazines too. The ones I don’t buy I read standing at the newstands. I average about five books a week…the normal length novel takes me about two hours. I enjoy thrillers and would like someday to write one. Though I prefer first-rate fiction, for the last few years my reading seems to have been concentrated on letters and journals and biographies.

John Barth:

The great guides were the books I discovered in the Johns Hopkins Library, where my student job was to file books away. One was more or less encouraged to take a cart of books and go back into the stacks and not come out for seven or eight hours. So I read what I was filing. My great teachers (the best thing that can happen to a writer) were Schederazade, Homer, Virgil, and Boccaccio; also the great Sanskrit taletellers. I was impressed forever with the width as well as the depth of literature–just what a kid from the sticks, from the swamp, in my case, needed.

John Dos Passos:

[Hemingway] and I used to read the Bible to each other. He began it. We read separate little scenes. From Kings, Chronicles. We didn’t make anything out of it–the reading–but Ernest at that time talked a lot about style. He was crazy about Stephen Crane’s The Blue HotelIt affected him very much. I was very much taken with him. He took me around to Gertrude Stein’s. I wasn’t quite at home there. A Buddha sitting up there, surveying us. Ernest was much less noisy then than he was in later life. He felt such people were instructive.

Gabriel García Márquez:

One night [at college] a friend lent me a book of short stories by Franz Kafka. I went bck to the pension where I was staying and began to read The Metamorphosis. The first line almost knocked me off the bed, I was so surprised. The first line reads, “As Gregor Samsa awoke that morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect….” When I read the line I thought to myself that I didn’t know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago. So I immediately started writing short stories.

Susan Sontag:

Well, literature does educate us about life. I wouldn’t be the person I am, I wouldn’t understand what I understand, were it not for certain books. I’m thinking of the great question of nineteenth-century Russian literature: how should one live? A novel worth reading is an education of the heart. It enlarges your sense of human possibility, of what human nature is, of what happens in the world. It’s a creator of inwardness.

Katherine Anne Porter:

All the old houses that I knew when I was a child were full of books, bought generation after generation by members of the family. Everyone was literate as a matter of course. Nobody told you to read this or not to read that. It was there to read, and we read. I grew up in a sort of mélange. I was reading Shakespeare’s sonnets when I was thirteen years old, and I’m perfectly certain that they made the most profound impression upon me of anything I every read….We had a very good library of–well, you might say secular philosophers. I was incredibly influenced by Montaigne when I was very young. And one day when I was about fourteen, my father led me up to a great big line of books and said, “Why don’t you read this? It’ll knock some of the nonsense out of you!” It happened to be the entire set of Voltaire’s philosophical dictionary with notes by Smollett. And I plowed through it; it took me about five years.

E.B. White:

I was never a voracious reader and, in fact, have done little reading in my life. There are too many other things I would rather do than read….It is a matter of some embarrassment to me that I have never read Joyce and a dozen other writers who have changed the face of literature. But there you are. I picked up Ulysses the other evening, when my eye lit on it, and gave it a go. I stayed with it only for about twenty minutes, then was off and away. It takes more than a genius to keep me reading a book.

Don DeLillo:

When I was eighteen, I got a summer job as a play-ground attendant–a parkie. And I was told to wear a white T-shirt and brown pants and brown shoes and a whistle around my neck–which they provided, the whistle. But I never acquired the rest of the outfit. I wrote blue jeans and checkered shirts and kept the whistle in my picket and just sat on a park bench disguised as an ordinary citizen. And this is where I read Faulker, As I Lay Dying and Light in August. And got paid for it. And then James Joyce, and it was through Joyce that I learned to see something in language that carried a radiance, something that made me feel the beauty and fervor of words, the sense that a word has a life and a history. And I’d look at a sentence in Ulysses or in Moby Dick or in Hemingway–maybe I hadn’t gotten to Ulysses at that point, it was Portrait of the Artistbut certainly Hemingway and the water that was clear and swiftly moving and the way the troops went marching down the road and raised dust that powdered the leaves of the trees. All this in a playground in the Bronx.

Thanks for reading.

d

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“a self-liberated man…”

In Books, Literature, Writers, Writing on July 11, 2010 at 8:03 am
E.B. White in Maine

E.B. White in Maine

I am working on a long-term writing project–employing the essay as the narrative form–and went to my book shelf to look up a quote. I took down Essay’s of E.B. White.  The line I was seeking was right where I left it. “The essayist is the self-liberated man, sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him, is of general interest.” I love White. A Google search includes this line: “…one of the greatest essayists of our time.” We, Google and I, are in accord: White was great. I read on to this sentence, a sentence which, I should point out, has garnered me great familial derision: “Only a person who is congenitally self-centered has the effrontery and the stamina to write essays.” I wish I could say that I don’t have the effrontery, nor can I muster the stamina to argue with “one of the greatest essayists of our time.” But I can’t.

And on that note: Please check out my essay at The Millions.

E. B. White in Maine

In Happiness, Writers on July 1, 2010 at 8:48 pm
E.B. White in Maine

E.B. White in Maine

From E.B. White‘s collection of essays about his sojourn in Maine, One Man’s Meat:

“Once in everyone’s life there is apt to be a period when he is fully awake, instead of asleep. I think of those five years in Maine as the time when this happened to me.”

And just before that passage, this sentence:

“I was a man in search of the first person singular…”

____

I was at a gallery opening this evening. I was asked what brought me to Maine. “My muse,” I said. “My muse lives here.”

First sentences…

In Books, Literature, Reading, Thinkers, Writers on June 29, 2010 at 6:26 pm

…from a few of my favorite books:

“He awoke, opened his eyes.” The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles

“The difference between the Parthenon and the World Trade Center, between a French wine glass and a German beer mug, between Bach and John Philip Sousa, between Sophocles and Shakespeare, between a bicycle and a horse, though explicable by historical moment, necessity, and destiny, is before all a difference of imagination.” The Geography of the Imagination, Guy Davenport

“Life changes fast.” The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

“They sometimes met on country roads when there were flowers or snow.” Dubin’s Lives, Bernard Malamud

“Standing amid the tan, excited post-Christmas crowd at the Southwest Florida Regional Airport, Rabbit Angstrom has a funny sudden feeling that what he has come to meet, what’s floating in unseen about to land, is not his son Nelson and daughter-in-law Pru and their two children but something more ominous and intimately his: his own death, shaped vaguely like an airplane.”  Rabbit at Rest, John Updike

“The amber light came on.” Blindness, José Saramago

“The essayist is a self-liberated man, sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him, is of general interest.” Essays of E.B. White

“I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies.” Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

“When you write, you lay out a line of words.” The Writing Life, Annie Dillard

“When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only.” Walden, Henry David Thoreau

“Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo….” Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce

…and perhaps the best opening sentence in all of literature:

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez

…the meaning of doing a thing seriously…

In Creativity, Literature, Music, Photography, Thinkers, Writers, Writing on May 16, 2010 at 5:26 am

I was considering an application to grad school last week. I’m 54 and too old (or disinterested?) for school. Maybe. I dropped out of graduate school three times. That was many years ago, when the kids were younger. I think, really, I used them–the kids–as an excuse. Actually, I’m not very good at taking direction. I like to do what I want to do. I’m spoiled that way. And I have authority issues. Graduate school was too confining. But as I was explaining to a friend recently, I’m scattered, I’m all over the place and think some focus would serve me well. He took issue with my logic. He’s a recently retired academic, so he has some perspective. He argued that there are not enough people who simply are curious and pursue their curiosities, wherever they may lead. Academia is good at giving people direction, sometimes too good, he suggested. He has a point. I am a genius at self-imposed discipline. But I am a rebel at other-imposed discipline. I am curious and want to chase my curiosities down the rabbit hole. As I confessed, I’m spoiled that way.

I was saying, I was considering an application for a graduate program and one of the questions asked that I list my influences, intellectual and scholarly influences specifically. It was a good question. It gave me pause. I read a lot and always have. But, as I said, I’m all over the place. As an essayist, I’d have to list Montaigne, E.B. White , and Guy Davenport, as influences. Thinkers include Nietzsche and Thoreau. I’m a photographer too, and in that discipline I consider Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander and Eugene Smith as top drawer influences. Years ago, I studied classical music and counted Villa-Lobos, Sor and Segovia as influences. No matter the activity, I’ve attempted to recognize who has gone before me and learn from them.

Aside from the list making, the question gives one a chance to think about the meaning of doing a thing seriously–to write, or read, compete, compose, study, invent, discover–and how to measure that activity. If history is a progressive continuum, we are all subject to being measured against it. Has history made itself known personally? If you’re a photographer, whether you realize it or not, you take pictures with an established image-making knowledge. You’re a landscape photographer: Ansel Adams. A journalist: Cartier-Bresson, And so forth for all the disciplines. The application made me take notice of the voices whispering through the fog of the past.

For me, books are the most visual reminder of history’s influences. When I look at my shelves, the names and titles comfort me, like a friend’s hand on my shoulder. Above I used the phrase,  if history is a progressive continuum. When I see books on a shelf, or listen to a Beethoven sonata, history becomes the present, the wafer becomes the body and the wine the blood. If history is a continuum, I am, in these moments, one with it, one with the river in which I am wading. That is the nature of art. That is what makes a thing lasting and the opposite of the ephemeral. The influences of history, when we recognize and manifest them, cease to be passed. They become present. When we embody them, they are the end of history.