Saturday, March 14, 2015

E.B. White: What Makes So Many Writers Unusual?

e.b. white a book is a sneeze
E.B. White
E.B. White, the famed author of Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little, wrote in a letter to his editor that "a book is a sneeze." That quote was the final line of the letter, but the lines preceding it were full of little tidbits sprung loose from the mind of a successful, unique and creative individual -- lines like, "Once you begin watching spiders, you haven't time for much else," and, "I took a razor blade, cut the sac adrift from the underside of the shed roof, put spider and sac in a candy box, and carried them to town." This begs the question, in the most positive way that I can put it, "What makes so many writers unusual?"

For starters, writers and all artists for that matter, are in the business of novelty. The famed ethnobotanist and spiritual philosopher,Terence McKenna, said:
We're playing with half a deck as long as we tolerate that the cardinals of government and science should dictate where human curiosity can legitimately send its attention and where it can not. It's an essentially preposterous situation. It is essentially a civil rights issue, because what we're talking about here is the repression of a religious sensibility. In fact, not a religious sensibility, the religious sensibility.
If you buy into McKenna's words you understand the crucial connection between spirituality and creativity, but you also understand the risk expressing one's curiosity can lead to, and the ridicule that can result. People like Terence -- and I think E.B. understood it too -- knew the difference between the material and the conscious universes. The fact that White could sit for hours on end admiring spiders was unusual, yes, but not nearly as novel as his writing of Charlotte's Web, a story that has passed the test of generations, nurturing countless imaginations in the process, and teaching children the value of exploring the far reaches of the conscious universe, the value of going to novel realms that the mind has yet to witness. He took just enough risk -- not too little to be bland or unoriginal, and not too much to be crazy. I don't know if anyone has ever said this, but if you think about it, E.B. White was quite psychedelic.

Writers' words are like tendrils outstretched, fishing line for the minds of the readers, hoping to hook as many as possible and reel them in to foreign shores. Sometimes they cast too far and into waters too deep and scary. Other times their bait is undesirable. There is a mutual bond between psychic fishermen and the minds that they catch. But authors like E.B. White serve a great purpose. They inch the school just a bit further toward the abysses and trenches that McKenna so willingly explored alone. It's no wonder some call him crazy and unusual.

What makes so many writers unusual then? The words "unusual" and "novel" are synonyms as far as I can see, so we should be asking what makes them so novel (a novelty that White reminded us in his letter, is as unavoidable and inevitable as a sneeze). If astronauts exploring the depths of outer space are considered heroes, then so writers and other artists who are willing to take risks, to create conscious experiences for audiences that they have not yet been able to experience, should also be called heroes in the eyes of world.

E.B. White's Author Page


  1. I'd love to write more on this and describe some other examples of why writers are unusual or novel. Hunter S. Thompson comes to mind, but I'm sure there are some more modest examples like with E.B. White. Any ideas?

  2. Herman Hesse comes to mind, especially Steppenwolf. Have you read any of the work of RAW? The Illuminatus Trilogy is both unusual and novel.

  3. I've only read Siddhartha by Hesse. I'll put Steppenwolf on my list. Yes, I do enjoy some Robert Anton Wilson. His lectures, too! I think there's something to be said about the "unusual" nature of some mainstream lit, too (which is kind of what drove me to write this piece). Thanks for the recs!


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