Good books on good writing from a writer who teaches and a teacher who writes.
Roy Peter Clark is vice president and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, one of the most prestigious schools for journalists in the world. He has taught writing at every level—to schoolchildren and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors—for more than thirty years, and has spoken about the writer’s craft on the Oprah Winfrey Show, NPR, and the Today show. His most recent book, The Glamour of Grammar, is a practical guide to writing that aims to put the glamour back into grammar. Responding to Guest Books Clark writes, “The best books on writing turn the insights that come from close reading into tools that every aspiring writer can use. Here are three that worked for me:”
By George Orwell
“I searched for a recording of the voice of George Orwell only to discover that none is known to exist, not even in the deep archives of the BBC. He was said to have a weak and wheezy voice, described once as ‘unsuitable’ for radio. No matter. We are left with the lion’s roar of his literary voice. His stated goal was to ‘make political writing into an art.’ Examples are plentiful in his dystopian novels and these essays, especially the ones that directly concern language use and abuse. Democracy, he argued, requires honest writers who can tell difficult truths in a language that is clear, vivid, and original.”
By S.I. Hayakawa
“I prefer the original title, Language in Action, which S.I. Hayakawa slapped on a set of mimeographed pages for his college students in 1938. This book brims with action. It frames the English language not as a sedate subject for study but as a tool for civic understanding, tolerance, and persuasion. He wrote the book, which added the ‘ladder of abstraction’ to the writer’s tool shed, in direct response to Nazi propaganda. Without critical literacy, he warned, our political liberties could ‘remain at the mercy of any eloquent and unscrupulous demagogue.’”
By Anne Lamott
“The work of Anne Lamott builds a bridge between problems of craft and crises of confidence that undermine the writer. In her world of spiritual journeys and self-reflections, there is room for ‘shitty first drafts.’ The Bird in Bird by Bird is no Paraclete (my spell checker wants me to change this to Parakeet). But acts of reading and writing are works of a holy human spirit. ‘They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.’ Even the title turns out to be a writing strategy. When her older brother struggled on a school writing project on birds, her father offered this advice: ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”