Adapted from "Zinsser on Friday," The American Scholar's National Magazine Award–Winning Essay Series
For nineteen months William Zinsser, author of the best-selling On Writing Well and many other books, wrote a weekly column for the website of the American Scholar magazine. This cornucopia was devoted mainly to culture and the arts, the craft of writing, and travels to remote places, along with the movies, American popular song, email, multitasking, baseball, Central Park, Tina Brown, Pauline Kael, Steve Martin, and other complications of modern life. Written with elegance and humor, these pieces are now collected in The Writer Who Stayed.
"If you value vintage journalism of an old-fashioned vividness and integrity please, please read this book."—Wall Street Journal
"Our 'endlessly supple' English language will, Zinsser says, 'do anything you ask it to do, if you treat it well. Try it and see.' Try him and see craftsmanship."—George F. Will
"Zinsser—who, with On Writing Well, taught a whole lot of us how to set down a clean English sentence—last year won a National Magazine Award for his Friday web columns in The American Scholar. They're now in a collection that's completely charming, impeccably polished, and Strunk-and-White-ishly brief. He's the youngest 90-year-old you'll read this week."—New York Magazine
William Zinsser is a lifelong journalist and nonfiction writer—he began his career on the New York Herald Tribune in 1946—and is also a teacher, best known for his book On Writing Well, a companion held in affection by three generations of writers, reporters, editors, teachers, and students. His 17 other books range from memoir (Writing Places) to travel (American Places), jazz (Mitchell & Ruff), American popular song (Easy to Remember), baseball (Spring Training) and the craft of writing (Writing to Learn). During the 1970s he was at Yale University, where he was master of Branford College and taught the influential nonfiction workshop that would start many writers and editors on their careers. He has taught at the New School, in New York, his hometown, and at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
These 58 essays written for the American Scholar's Web site span topics both personal and cultural, from Zinsser's experiences during WWII to an app for Central Park. Readers who crave more of the advice Zinsser provided in his 1976 guide On Writing Well will find an abundance: in addition to 12 craft essays, Zinsser drops tips throughout: "Writers! Never forget to tell us what's up with the bears." The essays in "Faraway Places" are mostly with travel, but the destinations almost incidental; Zinsser prefers to discuss how "civilized" white people write about whatever "unknown land" they travel to, not the people or cultures who call that place home. The order of the essays within their categories feels somewhat slapdash, though these shifts feel appropriate to the Internet culture Zinsser was writing for and about. His reminiscing does become tiring when reading the book cover to cover, particularly in the "Tech Age" section, but enjoyed in small chunks, Zinsser's sharp observations provide a welcome perspective.