E. B. White

E. B. White / Courtesy White Literary LLC

I had to come into my office to restart the computer when our network went down. As I was waiting for it to come back online, I looked down to my right and saw my copy of The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White.

As is my habit while waiting for something to happen, I will start either reading or writing. Since the computer was engaged and my other writing instrument, my cell phone, was in the living room, I picked up The Elements of Style.

I have to admit, I have a bad habit on occasion—of skipping over the introductions in textbooks or manuals. It is a practice I need to fix. Sometimes, authors or publishers tend to include some very interesting information in those introductions.

You can also find fascinating material in the introductory text of many books that may spur you into further research of another intriguing aspect of your original topic. Such was the case in reading the introduction to The Elements of Style just a moment ago.

When I was at the University of Florida in the mid-1970s, Strunk and White’s book was required reading for all journalism students. It was a “little” book. Indeed, in reading the introduction some 40 years later, I find the original author of the book, Will Strunk, as E. B. White referred to his mentor, talked of his book and proudly called it a “little” book.

If you are a writer, or an aspiring writer, there is nothing “little” about his book. If you want to write, and write well, you must read this book.

The introduction by White begins, “At the close of the first World War, when I was a student at Cornell, I took a course called English 8. My professor was William Strunk, Jr. A textbook required for the course was a slim volume called The Elements of Style, whose author was the professor himself.” In these digital days of the Twenty-First Century, I found it interesting this very important book started life as a self-published pamphlet. It must have been a great challenge for Professor Strunk to produce enough copies for his students at the time.

White goes on to explain how he passed the course and began his life after Cornell. If you are a writer and you use your research skills to find out more about the writer, E. B. White, you will discover he went on to become a very successful essayist, contributing many articles to The New Yorker. He also wrote Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, to satisfy the desires of his young nieces and nephews. Reading further into the introduction, you will read how White explains, in 1957, the Macmillan Company commissioned him to revise his old professor’s “little book.”

Interestingly, Macmillan released the second edition of The Elements of Style in 1959. The book would be republished in 1972, 1979, at the end of the century, and the last edition hit the streets in 2005.

And here is the really interesting thing: the latest edition of the book comes out—today!  Click here for your personal copy of 2012 edition of The Elements of Style.

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© 2012 J. Clark

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