Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review: "The Story of 'Charlotte's Web'"

If you're anything like me, you know E.B. White's Charlotte's Web pretty well. I read the book many times when I was younger, and even read it out loud during a family vacation a few years ago. But I wasn't aware of much of the book's backstory, so when I saw Michael Sims' The Story of Charlotte's Web: E.B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic (Walker & Company, forthcoming) I knew it was a must-read.

Sims has done a fantastic job here, writing a short biography of White's life and career but really digging into the author's process of creating Charlotte's Web. Drawing on White's papers (at Cornell) and looking carefully at his drafts, research notes, designs and inspirations for the book, Sims has managed to write as much a biography of the book as of the man who wrote it.

White's childhood, college days, career, and his life as a Maine farmer with a deep and meaningful relationship with the world around him all come into play here, but it's that final aspect (his love of animals and his understanding of how they fit into the world) that really played into the creation of his story. Sims' partial reconstruction of White's research process by examining the notes he took on various spider reference sources while trying to pin down Charlotte's identity and life story was riveting, and White's own sparkly writing is used to great effect.

If you've ever enjoyed White's masterpiece, or like to know the "story behind the book," this is a title you should be sure to add to your shelves. It's a keeper.

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