I’m downsizing my grammar book collection, or at least trying to. Tough job. I have so many favorites. How can I heartlessly toss these treasures in a box for a yard sale? No. Some simply cannot go.
Last night I picked up Essays of E. B. White (Harper Perennial, 1977 edition. Original copyright 1934). White is known for Charlotte’s Web, a book about a pig, a spider, and a young girl–a favorite with children everywhere. White is also known for his writings in the New Yorker and Harper’s magazine.
In one essay, White describes his own attempts to discard some of the accumulated miscellany gathered in his lifetime. But one book, he decides, he can’t possibly disown is The Elements of Style, the much favored, much challenged book by William Strunk, Jr.
In 1919, E.B. White took an English class at Cornell University with Strunk as the teacher. Elements of Style was on the required reading list.
Years later, (1957) E.B. White was asked to revise of The Elements, but after time spent working on it, he decided that “I discovered that for all my fine talk, I was no match for the parts of speech…[and] I felt uneasy at posing as an expert on rhetoric, when the truth is I write by ear, always with difficulty and seldom with any exact notion of what is taking place under the hood.”
Those reservations notwithstanding, White did revise Strunk’s original work. And, of course, that work has been revised again and again and is still a best seller on Amazon.
Downsizing my grammar book collection forces me to pick up old favorites and riffle through their pages and even smell a bit of their mustiness. With a sigh, Essays and Elements both go into a box to be donated to the library for its book sale. If I get nostalgic for these oldies, I will visit them on Amazon. I am sure they will be there for years to come.