P.S. In Praise of the Hen, or, Magic

All day I’ve been wishing everyone I know would go out and read E.B. White’s “The Hen, An Appreciation” right this minute.  It’s like wanting to give everyone a really spectacular present.   The essay says everything I could hope to say about chickens–and about human nature, pride, delight, endeavor, and Life, too–and better than I could hope to say it, which is both daunting and inspiring.

I love E. B. White.  That’s the bottom line.  My esteem for his work just keeps growing.

I was lucky to see this essay.  It’s not in my E.B. White essay collection, and it’s not online, either, at least not in its entirety as far as I can find.  But a new librarian friend from Ithaca, New York (who also keeps chickens and has been reviewing my upcoming young adult novel, consulting on the poultry details in particular), forwarded “The Hen” to me.  It was perfect.  As a writer I like to aim way beyond my capabilities and this essay became a target.  If I could write something that had even a hint of White’s grace and humor, I’d be glad.  He’s so good.  Even two months later I’m dying to quote random sentences to anyone who’ll listen.

I stop myself  (I remember so well how my siblings and I cringed as our dad cried Listen, listen! in regard to bits of whatever book he was reading, no matter how absorbed we were in our games and toys and no matter how far the material was over our heads), but just barely.  But that excitement–it’s one of the gifts of reading, right?  And the sense of connection, too.  I get to hang out with E.B. White, which is astounding.  He’s not only one of my biggest literary heroes, he’s dead.

This is, absolutely, magic.

Here’s my wish for today:  that I spark a run, however miniature, on bookstores and libraries, that I set people–or even just a person–clamoring for a copy of  “The Hen, An Appreciation.”*

Wouldn’t that be something.

*John (the Ithican librarian) points out that any clamoring needs to be for “The Second Tree From the Corner,” the collection the essay is in, which he says appears to be out of print.  So, a  great opportunity to go to the library or your local used bookstore.

Category: At Home | Tags: , , , , 4 comments »

4 Responses to “P.S. In Praise of the Hen, or, Magic”

  1. Nancy Dwyer

    Hi Ellen
    I also LOVE E.B. White! He’s timeless. His essays are great but you just don’t get any better than “Charlotte’s Web”! A favorite memoir of mine about him is “Katherine and E.B. White-An Affectionate Memoir” written by his long time secretary, Isabel Russell. I sent you an email today about the book signing too. Thanks! Nancy

  2. ellenair

    Thanks, Nancy. I’ll have to look for that book. It sounds like something I’d love. I’m looking forward to coming to Falling Rock!

  3. Linda

    Hi, Ellen,

    Coming late to your blog, I’ve been rationing it. Pat has been indoors watching a sad movie. I’m on the screened porch with Leo the Jack Russell. Just wanted to let you know that this post sent me straight to Amazon to check on “The Second Tree From the Corner.” Which I found for 19 cents and 3.99 shipping at a Michigan Goodwill Store. And for good measure, I also ordered his letters and “Essays of E. B. White” which I had to return to the library without finishing because I rationed that too. I can’t blaze through good writing. It needs to be savored and considered in reasonable pieces. Sometimes (and I expect this will be true of your book), I’ll read through fast to find out what happens in a good story, put the book aside for a few weeks, and then read it again more slowly. Can’t wait for the White to come. Will be getting “South of Superior” on my Kindle on Thursday, and two print copies whenever they show up. Looking forward to seeing you next month!


  4. ellenair

    Linda, what a wonderful note! Thank you. It’ll be great to see you soon.

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