Book Review: Here is New York (E.B. White)

Book Review: Here is New York (E.B. White)

Here is New York by E.B. White

E.B. White

White on the beach with his dachshund Minnie (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

The following comes via Wikipedia:

Elwyn Brooks White (July 11, 1899 – October 1, 1985)[1] was an American writer. He was the author of several highly popular books for children, including Stuart Little (1945), Charlotte’s Web (1952), and The Trumpet of the Swan (1970).

In a 2012 survey of School Library Journal readers, Charlotte’s Web was ranked first in their poll of the top one hundred children’s novels.[2] White also was a contributing editor to The New Yorker magazine and co-author of The Elements of Style, an English language style guide.

Wikipedia – E.B. White

After graduating from Cornell, White went to work for the United Press, later United Press International, and the American Legion News Service in 1921 and 1922. From September 1922 to June 1923, he was a cub reporter for The Seattle Times. On one occasion, when White was stuck writing a story, a Times editor said, “Just say the words.”[15]

White was fired from the Times and later wrote for the rival Seattle Post-Intelligencer before a stint in Alaska on a fireboat.[16] He then worked for almost two years with the Frank Seaman advertising agency as a production assistant and copywriter[17] before returning to New York City in 1924.

In 1925, after The New Yorker was founded, White began submitting manuscripts to the magazine. Katharine Angell, the literary editor, recommended to editor-in-chief and founder Harold Ross that White be hired as a staff writer. However, it took months to convince White to attend a meeting at the office and additional weeks to convince him to work on the premises. He eventually agreed to work in the office on Thursdays.[18]

White published his first article for The New Yorker in 1925, then joined the staff in 1927, and continued to write for the magazine for nearly six decades. Best recognized for his essays and unsigned “Notes and Comment” pieces, he gradually became the magazine’s most important contributor. From the beginning to the end of his career at The New Yorker, he frequently provided what the magazine calls “Newsbreaks”, which were short, witty comments on oddly worded printed items from many sources, under various categories, such as “Block That Metaphor.” He also was a columnist for Harper’s Magazine from 1938 to 1943.

In 1949, White published Here Is New York, a short book based on an article he had been commissioned to write for Holiday. Editor Ted Patrick approached White about writing the essay, telling him it would be fun. “Writing is never ‘fun'”, White replied.[19] That article reflects the writer’s appreciation of a city that provides its residents with both “the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy.” It concludes with a dark note touching on the forces that could destroy the city that he loved. This prescient “love letter” to the city was re-published in 1999 on his centennial with an introduction by his stepson, Roger Angell.

In 1959, White edited and updated The Elements of Style. This handbook of grammatical and stylistic guidance for writers of American English was first written and published in 1918 by William Strunk Jr., one of White’s professors at Cornell. White’s reworking of the book was extremely well received, and later editions followed in 1972, 1979, and 1999. Maira Kalman illustrated an edition in 2005. That same year, Nico Muhly, a New York City composer, premiered a short opera based on the book. The volume is a standard tool for students and writers and remains required reading in many composition classes. The complete history of The Elements of Style is detailed in Mark Garvey’s Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.

Wikipedia – E.B. White (Career)

GoodReads Blurb

The back of the book blurb cover reads:

Perceptive, funny, and nostalgic, E.B. White’s stroll around Manhattan remains the quintessential love letter to the city, written by one of America’s foremost literary figures. The New York Times has named Here is New York one of the ten best books ever written about the metropolis, and The New Yorker calls it “the wittiest essay, and one of the most perceptive, ever done on the city.

Here is New York (GoodReads)

Book Review

“Here is New York” by E.B. White is a remarkable essay that has achieved the status of a classic for its timeless portrayal of New York City. Originally published in 1949, the essay remains a powerful evocation of the character and spirit of the city. Despite its brevity, White’s essay captures the essence of New York City in a prose that is both lyrical and sharply observant, offering readers a nuanced glimpse into its complexities and contradictions.

In this essay, White divides New York into three distinct categories: the city for natives, the city for commuters, and the city for newcomers. Each group interacts with the city in a unique way, shaping and being shaped by it. White’s analysis reveals the layers of New York’s identity, showing how the city is a place of endless possibilities and inevitable loneliness, where one can be surrounded by millions yet still feel isolated.

White’s writing is beautifully precise, imbued with a nostalgic yet clear-eyed tone that avoids sentimentality. His observations are often prophetic, touching on issues such as overpopulation, gentrification, and the loss of individuality—issues that are even more relevant today than they were in the mid-20th century. For instance, he notes, “The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible,” a line that carries chilling resonances post-September 11, 2001.

“Here is New York” also excels in its vivid imagery. White masterfully sketches scenes from the streets, capturing the bustling life and the architectural marvels that define the cityscape. His essay reads like a love letter to New York, penned by someone who understands its imperfections yet is completely enamored by its dynamic character.

At its core, “Here is New York” is both a personal reflection and a universal declaration of one of the most iconic cities in the world. It speaks not only to those who have lived in or visited New York but also to anyone who has ever dreamed of such an experience. The essay’s lasting appeal lies in its ability to capture the enduring spirit of New York City—a metropolis that constantly reinvents itself while remaining unmistakably the same.

This essay is a must-read for anyone interested in New York, urban life, or the art of masterful essay writing. It is a short read, but its impact is profound, offering insights that will linger long after the last page is turned.

My GoodReads Rating: ****
My LibraryThing Rating: ***.5
Global Average GoodReads Rating: 4.29 (as of 2.29.24)

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Last Updated: May 5, 2024By

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