On chickens and The New Yorker
I don’t know why, but I delight in discovering a past iteration of a current fad. Take this passage, which could be about our current fascination with the backyard chicken:
At first, as a boy in a carefully zoned suburb, I had neighbors and police to reckon with; my chickens had to be as closely guarded as an underground newspaper. Later, as a man in the country, I had my old friends in town to reckon with, most of whom regarded the hen as a comic prop straight out of vaudeville… Their scorn only increased my devotion to the hen. I remained loyal, as a man would to a bride whom his family received with open ridicule. Now it is my turn to wear the smile, as I listen to the enthusiastic cackling of urbanites, who have suddenly taken up the hen socially and who fill the air with their newfound ecstasy and knowledge and the relative charms of the New Hampshire Red and the Laced Wyandotte. You would think, from their nervous cries of wonder and praise, that the hen as hatched yesterday in the suburbs of New York, instead of in the remote past in the jungles of India.
Pronouns aside, I might guess I was reading Susan Orlean, who tweets prodigiously about her own chickens and wrote 4000 words about them for The New Yorker in September. But this is actually another New Yorker staff writer, E.B. White, writing in 1944 for the preface to A Basic Chicken Guide.
(I stumbled across this while re-reading William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. If you write anything – don’t we all? – and you aren’t familiar with this book, do yourself a favour and pick it up.)