cover image WRITING ABOUT YOUR LIFE: A Journey into the Past

WRITING ABOUT YOUR LIFE: A Journey into the Past

William Knowlton Zinsser, . . Marlowe, $23.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-1-56924-468-5

Zinsser, author of a classic guide for nonfiction authors, On Writing Well, looks back on his own years of professional writing, glossing selections from his past articles with advice for would-be memoirists. He begins with impressionistic sketches of his WWII experiences as a young army private in North Africa and Italy. Next he details his 13-year career at the New York Herald Tribune , where he wrote drama and movie features. He draws humorously and self-effacingly on his impromptu role as an extra for Woody Allen in Stardust Memories. With quietly witty insights into academic life, Zinsser charts years spent teaching at Yale while writing freelance for magazines such as Look. An account of his service as an editor at the Book-of-the-Month Club includes a history of that venerable institution. Finally Zinsser brings us up-to-date with his recent rebirth as a public pianist. To follow one's heart is Zinsser's most enduring piece of advice. In writing he recommends dwelling on "small, self-contained incidents" and making use of anecdotes and vivid memories. When discussing capturing places in print, he comments usefully on the changing trends of the travel genre (increased political correctness). Zinsser is warmly appreciative of other well-known memoirists and their organizational methods, admiring in particular Thoreau, Frank McCourt, Mary Karr and Annie Dillard. While his frank, affirmative and encouraging style will help anyone embarking on writing their own life story, his book will be especially useful to those of his own generation. (May)