Monday, 22 December 2008

Research uncovers some wonderful things

Allow me to take you on a short detour. The moon's still up there but we just can't see it so well tonight. It is nearly the new moon after all. Full-mooners like me mock the new moon - ha, we say, new moon, not looking so... full now, are we? Then we worry about ourselves for mocking a new moon.

Researching for a book of this scope isn't easy. It's great fun but not easy. But in the process of scouring the web, flicking through books, and laser-reading magazines and newspapers with an avidity that would make Superman tired, I've found a rare gem. A book of essays by E. B. White: the man who added to Mr Strunk's funny and educational guide to the English language The Elements of Style - and who also wrote Charlotte's Web.

I found One Man's Meat when Googling "Bomber's Moon". It was a top ten hit. I was crest-fallen when - after the initial ecstacy of receiving a book from the States (funnily I'm still waiting for the UK books I ordered with it) - I found only one reference to the war moon.

But I started to read the book anyway. It looked old and well-fingered and the least I could do was bend the pages a little further. And then it began to turn into a brilliant read. One Man's Meat takes us through WWII in the warm, comforting words of E. B. White - a man whose mastery of the English language makes me feel he would like his name written in full.

The book is a collection of essays that appeared in Harper's Magazine in the 1930s and 40s. They're brilliantly observed accounts of the author's life on a newly acquired farm in Maine - and of course the build up to a war that's being mooted across the world. But it's most fascinating in its prescience; in E. B. White's almost uncanny ability to see the future like it happened yesterday.

Here he speaks about television in July 1938 - little more than a decade after John Logie Baird's first public display of the invention in London:

Television will enormously enlarge the eye's range, and, like radio, will advertise the Elsewhere. Together with the tabs, the mags, and the movies, it will insist that we forget the primary and the near in favor of the secondary and the remote. More hours in every twenty-four will be spent digesting ideas, sounds, images - distant and concocted. In sufficient accumulation, radio sounds and television sights may become more familiar to us than their originals.

One Man's Meat (Harper, 1983)
I bet today you've already wondered - or will later - what's on tele. It's not just E. B. White's prediction that's remarkable here; it's his ability to so lucidly convey his fears. The irony being that writing like his is lost behind the glow of the television and internet and in the music of radio and I-pods - it's now nowhere near as commerical as a tart with fake breasts eating insect larvae on a set in an Australian forest.

Anyway, please forgive me that wander into another world. I reckon the author liked the moon. In fact he probably imagined someone writing this blog.

He would've made a great blogger.

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