Book Heaven

Where the world of books and life intersect

Location: South Amboy, New Jersey

I am deeply involved in trying to solve the discrepancy between being interested in zen and trying to acquire all the things I've been accumulating

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

An Essay a Day

My idea of a perfect day would start, not at the crack of dawn, but at some gentler hour, where I would repair to the porch and begin the day by reading an essay. Set against a backdrop of hapless commuters making their way to work, I hope by then I would be enlightened enough to feel sorry for them not smug about my good fortune in being able to mine the pages of literature rather than having to scuffle for pesos in the workaday world.

Of course I'd be torn about whether to read a "new" essay or one of the many classics that have stood the test of time and are deserving of a rereading. To be sure it'd be hard to tear oneself away from a good Christopher Morley collection until you'd read them all. Maybe, to be fair, the diet would have to be two essays a day -- one new and one classic.

Today I decide to reread E. B. White's "Here Is New York", an essay so popular that it was actually reprinted as a little book a couple of years back. I'm reading it though in a 1977 Harper & Row collection entitled Essays of E. B. White. This is a great little essay (vintage late 40s, I believe), hopelessly cheerful in its optimism and the colorful picture it paints of the city. Cheerful that is until the very end when it turns serious and leaves you with an ending that rings so true today that it's positively startling in its timeliness and timelessness:

The subtlest change in New York is something people don't speak much about but that is in everyone's mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.
All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation; in New York the fact is somewhat more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself, and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer who might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.
from "Here Is New York" by E.B. White