Banished to the proverbial desert island and forced to live with one volume for the rest of my life (God forbid!), I would likely take my copy of E.B. White's essays. His exquisitely crafted prose elicits, in me, unadulterated joy and admiration. Whether writing about the streets of New York, the animals on his Maine farm or a summer visit to the lake, he manages to infuse the mundane with extraordinary life and vitality. His lightly-worn avuncular wisdom is timeless.
Yesterday, reading his 1954 essay "A slight sound at evening", written for the hundredth anniversary of Thoreau's Walden, I was again struck by his prophetic voice. It was over sixty years ago that he wrote:
"Thoreau's Walden is pertinent and timely. In our uneasy season, when all men unconsciously seek a retreat from a world that has got almost completely out of hand, his house in Concord woods is a haven. In our culture of gadgetry and the multiplicity of convenience, his cry 'Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!' has the insistence of a fire alarm. In the brooding atmosphere of war and the gathering radioactive storm, the innocence and serenity of his summer afternoons are enough to burst the remembering heart, and one gazes back upon that pleasing interlude - its confidence, its purity, its deliberateness - with awe and wonder, as one would look upon the face of a child asleep."
Here's a nice critical essay on this quintessential New Yorker writer from the January/February 2014 issue of "Humanities" magazine by Danny Heitman.