When I brought my signed copy of Vacationland home from a live show and book signing by one of my favorite podcast personalities, Judge John Hodgman, I was determined that it wouldn’t just collect dust on the shelf. The signed copy was hard won by my valiant friend, who secured tickets to the signing against all odds, drove me through the dark, rainy streets of San Francisco to the event, and suffered vandalism to her vehicle on said San Francisco streets, all with good cheer and no complaint.
But reading Vacationland took some effort. I have a lifelong habit of neglecting to read signed books. Perhaps it’s some lingering shame at my shyness when meeting the author, or it could be I’m an eBookworm at heart, and paper books are for looking pretty on the shelf, not for reading.
When I found myself under the weather and sofa bound for several days, I seized the opportunity to devour Vacationland. I read it from cover to cover in less than 48 hours. Take that, procrastination.
Vacationland concerns Hodgman’s two vacation homes, one in Massachusetts, one in Maine. The home in Maine is near the residence of a famous American author. Hodgman drops hint after hint about the famous author’s identity, but never gives his name. As I feverishly flipped the pages of Vacationland, I became more and more intrigued by the mystery of the unidentified writer. Who was he?
In a fit of sofa sick day madness, I scoured the internet to investigate Hodgman’s clues. My sleuthing didn’t get me any closer to an answer. I was reduced to asking the internet if anyone knew who the mystery writer was in Vacationland.
Several someones did. Most agreed Hodgman’s mystery writer was E.B. White.
I pulled up E. B. White on Wikipedia and learned that I’d read not one, but two books by the author. I’d have never guessed these two disparate, but fundamental reads from my youth, were by the same writer.
E.B. White is famous for having written, among other children’s books, Charlotte’s Web. I will never forget this story, which I heard sitting in a circle of classmates at the feet of our elementary school librarian. Just the title can still evoke my first taste of dreading loss, then somehow finding sweetness and beauty in its inevitability.
But E.B. White did more than just write children’s stories. Turns out he is the White half of the celebrated Strunk & White Elements of Style. This is another volume that made a big impression on me early in life. Although the Chicago Manual of Style is now the more go-to authority on the nitty gritty particulars of written expression, Strunk & White will always be my first grammar and style love. Elements of Style is slim, succinct, and unapologetically opinionated. When I read it, the reasoning behind the rules, as much as the rules, themselves, shaped the way I communicate.
Thanks to Vacationland I learned that E.B. White hated the spotlight, hid out from publicity by sneaking onto the fire escape, and hid out from New York City in rural Maine. Hodgman expressed profound admiration for the man, particularly his desire to be known for his work, not as a personality. So I hope E.B. White would be pleased that, up until this year, I had no idea who he was, but his books have always loomed large in my life.