Writing can be a utility, but it can also be an art. The best writers are those who make it both, simultaneously. I’m already of the mind that William Zinsser is one of those best writers.
Second in my not-really-a-series on William Zinsser books is The Writer Who Stayed, which has little in common with the last book of his that I reviewed, American Places. While that book took us around the country with in depth looks into history, this book contains dozens of essays by Zinsser from his relatively short stint, late in his life, writing for the American Scholar magazine website. These are essays filled with commentary on our culture, writing, travel, baseball, Steve Martin, Central Park, and anything else that caught Zinsser’s attention or was his muse during that time. He writes about what he remembered, observed, and experienced in the way that only he could.
Named after one of the essays (about an east coast writer who did some work in Hollywood and then stayed there), this book is a series of interesting looks into the many corners of our society. Most of the essays are from one to three pages long, each an easy read in one sitting. All are entrancing, keeping me from putting the book down until an essay’s end.
Zinsser laments the loss of our proper hat-wearing society. He hopes that Obama would get more good shellackings, but not in the way you might think. He writes as mostly a solitary pursuit, not participating in any writers’ communities, and satisfying his own writing tastes (in that, he and I have a lot in common). He compares the work of a writer to that of a plumber. And he encourages us all to be a lot more hands-off when our kids go off to college.
Though I found endless advice and perspective in the book, here’s one morsel that I had already been carrying with me: “Nonfiction writers should always gather far more material than they will use, never knowing which morsel will later exactly serve their needs.” I do this when researching a topic, reviewing an educational game, or taking notes on a trip. It’s good to know that my instincts have been good ones.
Every book of William Zinsser’s that I read makes me crave the next. Fortunately, he wrote over a dozen books, so it will keep me busy for a while.
The Writer Who Stayed is a great read for those who love the English language and enjoy the short essay format. Perfect for reading before bed. Also a great gift for teenagers and graduating seniors, who often need some help expanding their life’s perspective.
Note: A copy of the book was provided for review purposes.