A few weeks back, in a book review posted in the Wall Street Journal (Article Here) I rediscovered a man who helped me in my writing. William Zinsser’s newest book The Man Who Stayed, is a treat and delight, the ramblings and musings of a cultural effete. For Mr. Zinsser, the world is rushing by and he no longer cares about trying to keep up, there is much to be said for the old and true. His book is more than that, it is a life lived in easily digested bites. Zinsser, now in his 90s, has lived long and large. Writer, editor, newspaperman, teacher, critic, and magazine contributor (and the list would go on and on in infinite variations), self-proclaimed WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant to those now culturally blind). A proud man, a man not easily convinced that progress is just that.
He has, as most of us have at one time or another, difficulties with changing styles, words, and technology. Boogie-woogie was scary at one time and I still remember clients demanding that I get a FAX machine – yes, you don’t have to be 91 to be bitchie. Mr. Zinsser is a man of style, his and his alone. Always well dressed, always with a fedora or proper hat (baseball caps belong at the game), always sending letters (in envelopes with stamps), always, well just always.
I loved the book, (exaggeration and hyperbole intended). It was like leaning into a casual conversation with a man who could be my father: experienced, well read, urbane, sophisticated, and pissed. If there is one theme throughout the book The Man Who Stayed (PAUL Dry, 175 pages GO HERE) it is loss. The loss of respect we have for each other, something that he has watched develop since the end of World War II. We are sloppier in dress and voice, we seemed to be more self-absorbed (really? Facebook?), our nose is buried in smartphones, we have lost the sense of adventure. We are acted on, we no longer act out.
But writing is his craft and one of my first books on writing was his, and On Writing Well is still one of the best. It is a comfortable mix of writing lectures, travelogues, and tips (he hated the term). The new edition has added “tips” on how a writer should live large to better understand their art, and how do deal with what the new piece they are writing is really about. What I particularly enjoy is the sense of real freedom he offers to writers, it is a book to be reread, often.
So your lesson today, students, is to add both books to your shelves. Read them, underline them, abuse them, reread them, and you will not only become a better writer but maybe a more enlightened person.
More Later . . . . . .