I both envy and feel sorry for Roger Angell

I’ve been reading a collection of the essays of E.B. White published over about a 40-year period in The New Yorker. I bought the collection while I was in school and put it in my “to read” stack. I pulled it out a week or so ago to read.

E.B. White is an amazing writer. He has a poet’s sense of detail and irony captured in stunningly clear and readable prose all wrapped up in a fine sense of humor. In addition to his essays, he published a number of wonderful children’s books like Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. He is the co-author with William Strunk (I think he’s really the author, but he says he based the book on the notes he made in a writing class in which Strunk was his professor) of Elements of Style, a book widely recognized as the bible of writing books. It’s familiarly called “the little white book,” something that caused me great grief today when I was looking for it to see if it had an answer to Brent’s question about the use of “regard” vs. “regards.” My current copy of the book has a silver cover, and it took me awhile to find it even though it was correctly filed with my reference and “how to” books. You see, I was looking for a “white” book.

I just ordered a copy of White’s collected letters after reading several reviews. I now have another author I wish I could have shared at least a bottle of wine with.

O.K., dear reader, I hear you saying, “Get on with this. What does all that have to do with Roger Angell? Who is Roger Angell?”

Roger Angell is another fine writer. He’s also had a long affiliation with The NYer, and still publishes an occasional piece. But he’s of interest to me here because his mother had the good sense (his observation) to marry E.B. White when he was fairly young. So he is White’s stepson.

Now I suspect that was a real asset when he was a young writer looking for a place to land. I suspect it had a fortuitous influence on his application at the magazine. That’s not to say that Angell couldn’t have landed the job on his own; he is very, very good.

But for the pity part: Can you imagine growing up wanting to write and having to compete with your own stepfather, arguably one of the truly great stylists in the English language? What a stress level to have to operate under! White must have handled things with a great deal of grace, because Angell writes so lovingly of him.

But then, as nearly as I can tell, White did everything with an extraordinary amount of grace. We should all be so blessed.

2 Responses to “I both envy and feel sorry for Roger Angell”

  1. Phil Ferris Says:

    Thank you Marianne for bringing EB White’s book of letters to my attention. As a, somewhat lapsed these days, letter writer I have always had a fascination with correspondence of people with a strong mastery of the English language, such as Winston Churchill and Groucho Marx.

    I have added the EB White book to my list (and am going to look Elements of Style again).



  2. mklekacz Says:

    E. B. White reminds us that grace and style both count in this world. I appreciate that. How will we find out these things when the letter-writers are gone?

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