NOTICE: (Updated March 5, 2010)

Beginning December 19, 2009, Books 'N Border Collies will be posting but only intermittently while I pursue personal goals. I plan to share some reading I'm doing, but there will be no reviews. I will, however, be sharing my exploration of vegetarian cooking and the cookbooks and websites I use to educate myself. I hope you enjoy it!


Wednesday, April 15, 2009


by William K. Zinsser

"Reduce your discipline -- whatever it is -- to a logical sequence of clearly thought sentences. You will thereby make it clear not only to other people but to yourself. You will find out whether you know your subject as well as you thought you did. If you don't, writing will show you where the holes are in your knowledge or your reasoning." (p. 198)

I wrote about this find a couple days ago, but now I've finished it. I loved this book! Writing To Learn is not so much a how-to book as it is a book of examples of good non-fiction writing. There are excerpts from books and papers on a wide range of topics, many of which I never would have thought I would have found interesting. Why would I want to read about water snakes in Missouri? Or chemistry's periodic table? Or the theory of relativity? Because there are people out there who can make those subjects the most fascinating thing you've ever heard in your life, that's why! I'm devastated that my library doesn't carry An Excellent Fishe by Archie Carr, a book about sea turtles. I've already put in my request for The Insect World of J. Henri Fabre because of his description of ant behavior. Ants! Seriously. It was amazing!

Whether or not I actually read the books or writings that this little book brought to my attention is irrelevant. The point is that written with inspiration, enthusiasm, and most importantly, clarity, any topic is worth reading and writing about. And writing about what you learn is the best way to organize and reinforce your new scholarship!

One of my favorite sections was where Zinsser talked about keeping writing simple and concise. Pompous or ambiguous writing is hiding the author's lack of reasoning ability or knowledge on a subject, or they are writing for their own ego. (Writing aimed at specialists in a field are not included in that generalization.) If you're writing to inform, then make it accessible to the everyday person. The ability to educate one's self should not be limited to those who are already in the know.

I found this book to be tremendously inspiring to both my self-education and writing goals. I wasted no time in ordering another of Zinsser's books, On Writing Well, The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. I feel like I'm on my way!


JoAnn said...

As we were looking for colleges for our daughter, we found many are instituting, or already have, 'writing across the curriculum' programs...and they make so much sense. This book sounds like a good one!

Gilion at Rose City Reader said...

The book sounds good because your review explains the thesis so clearly. You definitely are on your way!

I keep mulling over how much I enjoyed the Towers of Gold book that I recently finished and it was because her writing was so clear and immediately understandable that she made a financial history of California entertaining. Just like Zinsser discussed.

On the other hand, the book I reviewed today was pompous and ambiguous (trying to be artsy) and it was irritating.

Good luck with your non-fiction writing!

BooksPlease said...

So many books on writing leave me cold, but this one sounds worth reading.

I hope you'll write about the ants book - I can't stand ants!! But I do think they're fascinating, I just hate them in the house and those flying ants are scary. Maybe I'll write about my ant phobia sometime.

Lezlie said...

JoAnn ~ Especially after reading this, I would *insist* on a Writing Across Curriculum program. Did she get into one that has it? I would love to know what she thinks!

Rose City Reader ~ Thank you! I have to say the financial history of California sounds dull at first glance. Towers of Gold must be one of the books that proves Zinsser's point! :-)

BooksPlease ~ This was less like a writing book and more like an anthology of book teasers. :-) I will definitely write about the ants. I can use it for my Dewey Decimal System Challenge! I don't think we have flying ants here. I least, I've never seen them. Icky.


Ladytink_534 said...

Glad you enjoyed it!

Lezlie said...

Ladytink ~ Thanks! I can't wait to reat the other one now! :-)


JoAnn said...

She ended up applying early-decision to another school, but one that has a writing-intesive freshman seminar and stresses writing even though they don't call it 'writing across the curriculum'. So far, she's been very happy...and so have I!

Lezlie said...

JoAnn ~ That's great! I'm so glad she seems to have found one she likes, and that she actually likes the writing part! So many don't.


Serena said...

I always loved writing in simple forms to ensure everyone can understand my meaning...this academic/scientific stuff is for the birds...

Lezlie said...

Serena ~ I couldn't agree more. I don't like feeling stupid when it's not necessary. (We're talking to you, Harold Bloom!)


Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I'm getting caught up on some of your older posts and just came across this one. This book sounds EXCELLENT! I'm a huge non-fiction fan IF it is written well. This books is going on my TBR list right now.

Lezlie said...

Heather ~ It was wonderful! I hope you like it as much as I did! I went out and bought On Writing Well by him also, so we'll see how that one is.