Zinsser is the guru of nonfiction writing, and I use his advice all the time in my own classroom, especially excerpts from his most famous book, On Writing Well in which he expounds on clutter as the disease of American writing. Simplify, simply, he advises. And I try to follow his lead, cutting out needless words and making my point using clear language. This book is Zinsser’s memoir on writing, describing his career as a writer, from his early days writing for The Herald Tribune to his many years as a freelance journalist to his years at Yale, and finally to his years devoted to On Writing Well and its numerous editions. I especially loved his descriptions of the offices at the Herald Tribune with cigarette smoke wafting over furious fingers at typewriters. The atmosphere seems dirty, messy, and loud, but Zinsser loved every minute of it, especially the spirited conversations around the coffee pot. Much later, in his freelance years, he misses those crowded, cluttered offices that felt so alive. I also loved his description of teaching at Yale where he intended to offer his first nonfiction writing class to 15 students (thinking he might have to recruit a few) and ended up with over a hundred students clamoring to get in. Then he had the luxury of reading their applications and deciding who to allow into the class. Ah…if only we could all be so lucky.
Anyone who wants to write should read Zinsser’s advice—and follow it. If half the memoirs on the market today were written by folks who followed his advice, most would be about 50% shorter than they are, and they wouldn’t lose a thing. I hope this won’t be Zinsser’s last book. (memoir).