Sunday, December 14, 2008

what I'm (re)reading: writing to learn

Its no secret that I wish I was a writer.  (Partly because then I could devote more time a day to reading.)  I have a few favorite books about writing that I like to re-read from time to time, and anything by William Zinsser tops the list.  If you want a classic guide on clear and precise writing, I highly recommend Zinsser's On Writing Well.  (I own two copies.)  Currently I'm reading Writing to Learn.

In Writing to Learn, Zinsser explores the idea that any subject can be made accessible through good writing, and that those with a fear of writing can be taught to overcome that fear by writing about subjects they love.  This certainly makes the book a must read for any teacher.

What I love most about Zinsser is that he clearly loves to read, and Writing to Learn is filled with examples by excellent authors.  I added many of these authors to my holiday book wish list, including John Muir and Rachel Carson.  In fact, my favorite chapter in the book wasn't the one on art, rather it was Earth, Sea, and Sky - the chapter on the environment and ecology. 

Which got me thinking, I'll happily read a book on any subject if the author is good.  I would count Sarah Vowell among my favorite authors.  Even though I don't have any particular interest in Presidential assassinations or Puritan society, I know I'm going to enjoy the story.  The same goes for Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, or Annie Dillard.  (Or, of course, William Zinsser.)

Sadly, I often find myself ordering books because the topic is interesting to me (such as craft theory or alternative transportation) only to find myself struggling to get through the book.  In Writing to Learn, Zinsser is heavily against jargon and academic speak, and the craft theory books I've been reading lately are some of the worst offenders.  As is the case with many craft academics, there's a strong desire to show just how smart you are.  Yawn.  I wish someone would read Writing to Learn before setting out to write the next craft theory book.

Hmmm, maybe that someone could be me...

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