What is Your Charlotte’s Web?

Dear Friends,
Today I was under the weather and couldn’t make it to our Elliot Bay Books reading in Seattle: a sad turn of affairs, but one that helped me practice accepting WHAT IS.

Holly, of course, did a marvelous job on her own. She did what we often do in bookstores: read from the chapter in Pen and the Bell about reading as a contemplative practice. In this chapter, we both recount our favorite books as children, but also the WAY we read as children: completely absorbed to the exclusion of all else.

In that chapter, I write about going back to re-read Charlotte’s Web , to see it through my adult eyes. And of course I find all kinds of new meanings in this simple tale of friendship, and the way E.B. White expresses a homey, down-to-earth mindfulness. At the end of the book we get this passage:

“Life in the barn was very good—night and day, winter and summer, spring and fall, dull days and bright days. It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, and the glory of everything.”

I find that so wonderful, how this children’s tale teaches us to value the “glory of everything,” even the smell of manure and the nearness of rats.

Today, Holly had the audience try out one of our exercises from that chapter:

Write a scene of yourself reading your favorite book (or being read to) as a child. Why did you love this book? Why did you love reading? Choose one specific moment and try to suspend it in time. Where did you like to read? Describe this place as specifically as you can. Capture all the sensory details. What sounds or smells accompany you? Can you convey this as a contemplative or holy moment?

Whenever we do this exercise with a group, it’s always wonderful to hear what books people choose to remember, and how clearly they can evoke these intimate spaces where one could be in pure communion.

We invite you to try this exercise, too. Give yourself 15 minutes. See if you can discover something new about that book you loved as a child. Share it with us here!

Yours in the writing life,

One thought on “What is Your Charlotte’s Web?

  1. Fourth grade. “Violated.” I found it under my parents’ bed, and snuck it into the bathroom to share with my best friend. On the cover a naked woman with red lips, prone on a bed, clutching a shred of blanket between her breasts. The plot escapes me, but I remember the linoleum floor, our whispered voices, the tingling in my lower belly.