What did you bring that book that I don’t want to be read to out of up for?
An E. B. White Megamix
[S]ometimes in writing of myself—which is the only subject anyone knows intimately—I have occasionally had the exquisite thrill of putting my finger on a little capsule of truth, and heard it give the faint squeak of mortality under my pressure, an antic sound.
E. B. White Letter to Stanley White January 1929
I have a spaniel that defrocked a nun last week. He took hold of the cord. I had hold of the leash. It was like elephants holding tails. Imagine me undressing a nun, even second hand.
E. B. White Letter to Alexander Woollcott November 1934
I’m glad to report that even now, at this late day, a blank sheet of paper holds the greatest excitement there is for me—more promising than a silver cloud, prettier than a little red wagon. It holds all the hope there is, all fears. I can remember, really quite distinctly, looking a sheet of paper square in the eyes when I was seven or eight years old and thinking, ‘This is where I belong, this is it.’
E. B. White Letter to Stanley Hart White January 1947
If the vexatious world of people were the whole world, I would not enjoy it at all. But it is only a small, though noisy, part of the whole; and I find the natural world as engaging and as innocent as it ever was. When I get sick of what men do, I have only to walk a few steps in another direction to see what spiders do. Or what the weather does. This sustains me very well indeed and I have no complaints.
E. B. White Letter to Carrie A. Wilson 1st May 1951
I suppose I have something in me that roughly corresponds to religious feelings, but like the earth before the Lord got after it, it is without form and void.
E. B. White Letter to John Brush 1st July 1954
As a child I was told that I should be seen and not heard. As an adult, I am making sure that I will be heard and not seen.
E. B. White Letter to Mrs. A. H. Kimball 20th December 1954
In other words, if a writer succeeds in communicating with a reader, I think it is simply because he has been trying (with some success) to get in touch with himself—to clarify the reception.
E. B. White Letter to Alison Marks 20th April 1956
Thanks for your letter inviting me to join the committee of the Arts and Sciences for Eisenhower.
I must decline, for secret reasons.
E. B. White Letter to J. Donald Adams 28th September 1956
The next grammar book I bring out I want to tell how to end a sentence with five prepositions. A father of a little boy goes upstairs after supper to read to his son, but he brings the wrong book. The boy says, “What did you bring that book that I don’t want to be read to out of up for?”
E. B. White Letter to J. G. Case 30th March 1962
I have no faith, only a suitcaseful of beliefs that sustain me. Life’s meaning has always eluded me and I guess always will. But I love it just the same.
E. B. White Letter to Mary Virginia Parrish 29th August 1969
When it comes to poetry I take my own sweet time and allow myself no more than one poem a day. A good poem is like an anchovy: it makes you want another right away and pretty soon the tin is empty and you have a bellyache or a small bone in your throat or both.
E. B. White Letter to Philip Booth 22nd November 1970
A library is many things. It's a place to go, to get in out of the rain. It's a place to go if you want to sit and think. But particularly it is a place where books live, and where you can get in touch with other people, and other thoughts, through books. If you want to find out about something, the information is in the reference books---the dictionaries, the encyclopedias, the atlases. If you like to be told a story, the library is the place to go. Books hold most of the secrets of the world, most of the thoughts that men and women have had. And when you are reading a book, you and the author are alone together---just the two of you. A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people---people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.
E. B. White Letter to the children of Troy 14th April 1971
I don’t really think fast enough to be allowed to use the telephone.
E. B. White Letter to William Maxwell 19th November 1971
Geese are great to have around, because they stir the air. They are sagacious, contentious, storm-loving, and beautiful. They are natural hecklers, delight in arguing a point, and are possessed of a truly remarkable sense of ingratitude. They never fail to greet you on your arrival, and the greeting is tinged with distaste and sarcasm.
E. B. White Letter to Mason Trowbridge 18th November 1972
It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man's curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.
Hang onto your hat. Hang onto your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.
E. B. White Letter to Mr. Nadeau 30th March 1973
Most of the above excerpts are from Letters of E. B. White, edited by Dorothy Lobrano Guth—one of the greatest collections of letters ever to have been published. The few that aren’t from that title can be found in In the Words of E. B. White, edited by Martha White, which is also a wonderful book.