There are frequent periods when I feel extremely embarrassed about the entire idea of reviewing books, because–there is no other way to put it–it’s just such a bullshitty thing to do. Just reading this sentence on Wikipedia in the Charlotte’s Web entry made me angry: “Seth Lerer, in his book Children’s Literature, finds that Charlotte represents female authorship and creativity, and compares her to other female characters in children’s literature such as Jo March in Little Women and Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden.” Right. And it doesn’t stop. I laughed out loud reading this next sentence: “Nancy Larrick brings to attention the ‘startling note of realism’ in the opening line, ‘Where’s Papa going with that Ax?’”
Yes, and it’s a secondary level of ridiculous that I’m writing on a blog about other critics and criticizing them for their over-criticism. But I mean, why ruin Charlotte’s Web by analyzing it like you’re in a freshman literature seminar called “On Bullshit”? The book takes place in a barnyard. Charlotte is a spider. Her “female authorship” consists of weaving messages in her web that the rat finds in the dump on ad copy for detergent (“With new radiant action!”). If there’s anything that can be left out of the endlessly reflexive and paranoid critical world, this book should qualify.
The Web is good just for its own sake, simple and pure, with an illogical and off-kilter sweetness that never gets cloying. Sure, it’s way more sophisticated than I remembered (I just reread it–thanks, library donors) and Wilbur the pig, like all the characters, is delightfully human (“One day just like another,” he groaned)–but really, who cares? I can hear some douchebag voice in my head saying, “Charlotte’s Web is a treatise on the power of words as well as a defense of the sociological predetermination of contemporary American gender relations” and it would be legitimately defensible in the aforesaid freshman seminar, but it would most importantly be a massive waste of time in comparison to just reading the book like a child would… just enjoying it.