Book Review | In the Words of E.B. White & The Great Northern Express

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Michael Piaza

As soon as I’d read it, I was lost. I’d intended to review In the Words of E. B. White | Quotations from America’s Most Companionable of Writers, focusing mostly on its introduction, a lovely essay by Martha White, the writer’s granddaughter, with whom I’d worked here at Yankee some years ago. I thought it would fit better with the second book I was planning to review and save me the time of looking through 174 pages of quotations.

But once I’d started, I couldn’t stop. As Grandfather White wrote (on page 137): “The visitor to the attic knows the risk he runs when he lifts the lid from a box of old letters. Words out of the past have the power to detain. Hours later he may find himself still crouched on the floor, savoring the pains and embarrassments of an early love, and with leg cramps to boot.”

If you’re familiar with White’s work (which includes the children’s classics Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan), you’ll delight in the memories this collection unearths. If you’re not familiar with White, it will inspire you to become so. Buy the book.

The aforementioned second book is The Great Northern Express: A Writer’s Journey Home, by Howard Frank Mosher. I’d give Mosher second place to hardly anyone but White, or perhaps Mark Twain, to whom he is often compared. When I saw his name on the advance copy, I snatched it from the pile of books to review in anticipation of another ornery epic from the bard of Vermont.

The Great Northern Express is indeed both ornery and epic–but it’s not the novel I expected. Instead, it’s a memoir, a travelogue, and a love letter. The memoir is about moving to Vermont as a 22-year-old teacher, new husband, and writer searching for his voice. The travelogue is about Mosher’s 100-city tour of America’s best independent bookstores as a 65-year-old man with prostate cancer. The love letter is to his wife, Phillis, to bookstores, and to storytelling–none of which he’s ready to give up.


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