Citizen Reviews: Writing Places

We continue our occasional series of customer reviews with a write-up of Writing Places: the Life Journey of a Writer and Teacher

Writing Places: the Life Journey of a Writer and Teacher
Peeling away, year by year, all but essential layers of the proverbial onion, an author finds his truest self, bringing unexpected rewards. After 20-plus years as newspaperman, freelancer, and jazz pianist, William Zinsser considered an offer to teach non-fiction writing at Yale. “At first it seemed like a crazy thing for a middle-aged Princeton man to do…But I wasn’t looking for professional advancement. I wanted to create a different kind of life….” And so he did. The prolific author’s latest work, Writing Places: the Life Journey of a Writer and Teacher, is the compact, colorful map of his working life, which he created in the dynamic cultural context of the past 60 years.

Zinsser, his WASP parents’ only son, rejected the generations-old family business and started his “unorthodox” journey at the New York Herald Tribune in 1946. Definitely not your son’s journalism. He eventually settled in as a columnist, later freelancing for The Saturday Evening Post, The New Yorker, Life and Look magazines. The professor’s early years at Yale led to his classic book On Writing Well, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2006. Here are thoughtful back-stories of the classic’s seven editions.

Highlights of Writing Places include Zinsser’s reflections from 1967 Haight-Ashbury; his years at Yale as teacher, editor, and Master of Branford College; the Book of the Month Club; his more recent teaching gigs with new immigrants; and the most unusual people and places. An interesting and humorous tour guide, the author at 86 is equally compelling as an advocate for clear writing that reveals an author’s humanity.

Writing Places: the Life Journey of a Writer and Teacher would feel more complete if it included a chapter on Zinsser’s early years and mentors, when the author’s love of language and its structure took root and nourishment. Even so, it is a memorable life.

Barb Schneider is a gerontologist and freelance writer, living in Bloomington.