Back when I was reading every book I could find on writing I pulled Jacques Barzun’s On Writing, Editing, and Publishing: Essays Explicative and Hortatory (2d ed; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986) off the shelf of one of the secondhand bookstores in Vancouver I used to frequent on a regular basis. It was probably Baquey, but it might’ve been the ABC Book and Comic Emporium or one of the Pulp Fiction stores or Kestrel or Hermit (the one that used to be next to Moderne Burger but was destroyed by the fire) or some other shop. I don’t remember, but I do remember it was 2007 because when I turned to the copyright page (out of habit), I remember wondering whether Barzun, Jacques, 1907– could still be alive.
I bought the slim paperback volume for $6.95 + tax. (The price is still in pencil on the title page.) The one essay from the collection that I re-read constantly is “A Writer’s Discipline” (pp. 5–17), which I’ve scanned and uploaded because it’s that good, and because sharing is caring.
There’s a place in it where he validates my (former) obsession with writer’s craft books:
Writers young or old who take an interest in the bare processes of their art (as painters more frequently do) would be well advised to read at large in the considerable literature of exhortation and confession about writing. Nine-tenths of it is pedantic or platitudinous, but the other tenth is often amusing and likely to contain particles of illuminating truth, especially if written by a practicing writer.
That bit in my copy is highlighted, twice. First in standard yellow by someone who owned it before me, then in blue.
Barzun is still alive, btw: 104 and still ticking, still writing away.