William Zinsser's journey to all the places where he has done his writing and his teaching begins in 1946, with his first job at the New York Herald Tribune, a community of legendary journalists and oddballs, in its postwar years of glory. Next came 11 years of freelance writing for magazines, mainly covering the turbulent 1960s for Life, a period that found the writer and his typewriter perched in many unusual locations.
After that he spent a decade at Yale University, where his office as master of Branford College was beneath a 44-bell carillon. At Yale he originated his famous "nonfiction workshop," which would launch the careers of many exceptional writers and editors. That course led to his classic book, On Writing Well, which he wrote during the summer of 1974 in a crude shed in Connecticut. In this new memoir Zinsser recalls the processes that went into creating that original edition and revising it over the next 30 years to keep pace with changes in the language and culture of America. His journey brings him back to New York City and to writing articles and books in quirky rented offices, one of which had a fire pole.
Written with humor and with gratitude for a lifetime of change and self-discovery, relishing a rich cast of characters that ranges from Yale's president Kingman Brewster to the actor Peter Sellers and the gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, Writing Places never loses its anchor in the craft of writing—how writing is taught, learned and finally brought to a high level of enjoyment.
This is quite simply a terrific book. If I have a complaint, it's the usual one regarding William Zinsser's work. I wished there were more. But if it had been longer, it wouldn't have been genuine Zinsser. One of his prime rules is to 'reduce clutter.' If Zinsser is hard on his students about editing out extraneous stuff, he's obviously twice as hard on himself. Because Writing Places, like his other books about writing and his life, has been mercilessly edited and honed to absolute shining perfection. I despair at ever coming close to this kind of writing myself. And I am an adherent to Zinsser's work too. I first read his classic tome, On Writing Well, about five years ago and just loved it. But as a follower I'm probably kind of a failure. I think it all matters, so ...I've also read his book, Writing About Your Life, which didn't have nearly enough about his own life (just my opinion, of course), so I was very excited to hear he'd finally written an actual memoir. Writing Places was a pleasure to read, but, as I've already said, I wished for more, particularly about his childhood and youth and his WWII service. Something like Andy Rooney did in MY WAR, or Sam Hynes in his two excellent memoirs, The Growing Seasons and Flights of Passage. If Zinsser ever decides to do this, I'd predict an instant bestseller, because there just aren't many more WWII memoirs that will still be written. The reading public is still hungry for such accounts though; witness the recent success in England of RAF pilot Geoffrey Wellum's book, First Light - a wonderful account of flying and the Battle of Britain.What the hell though. I do so appreciate everything Zinsser has already shared with us. And what he's tried to teach us about good writing. My next assignment: to read his books about music and baseball - EASY TO REMEMBER and SPRING TRAINING. Particularly the first one, because Zinsser is an accomplished jazz pianist of many years standing. Gotta read that one. In the meantime, keep writing, Mr Zinsser, and I'll keep reading.read more
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