Pick of the Week: "On Writing Well" and Polish Poets

I have two recommendations this week.

First, I recommend anyone who hasn't read it to pick up a copy of William Zinsser's "On Writing Well." When I work with leaders, we almost always end up talking about their ability to communicate. Leaders need to communicate clearly so people understand what is expected of them and how to deliver on those expectations. Nothing is more dispiriting to an organization than having people waste time going the wrong direction because the leader was not clear. In fact, clear communication affects every part of our lives and all of our relationships. Effective communication is direct, concise-but-sufficient (it says enough without droning on), coherent, and consistent. Zinsser's book teaches writers (anyone who writes) how to do this better than any book I've ever read (I'll take it over Strunk and White any day.) Good writing requires good thinking--coherence, logic, accuracy, etc.--so writing well will make you a better thinker. Writing also carries over into good speaking because it forces one to become disciplined in crafting and delivering a message. One's sentences follow in a logical order that keeps the listener engaged rather than inviting them to tune out. Good communication skills are the secret weapon of effective leaders in all areas of life. Arm yourself well; read this book and learn its lessons.

My second pick is more broad: "Polish poets." Perhaps it's mid-life re-appreciation of my Polish heritage, but I've been immersed in modern Polish poets lately. I've always tried to stay away from sentimentality and exuberance in poetry, and there is no fear of stumbling across them with these writers. Rather, these poets tend to exemplify the Poles' ability to wistfully endure hardship and oppression, to stare life in the face without blinking or backing down, and to be dignified without taking themselves or anyone else too seriously.

Milosz would be a little too obvious I think, so his volumes sit largely as-yet-unexplored on the shelves. It started by chance with Zbigniew Herbert (I was captivated by the photo on the cover of his "Collected Works"), and quickly spread to Adam Zagajewski and Janusz Szuber. Reading Tadeusz Rozewicz, my newest discovery, is like receiving a light slap in the face by a slightly stern uncle urging you to wake up and see--really see--the world around you. (His picture reminds me of my grandfather, a quietly urgent man who took a bullet trying to stop Hitler.) But most of all, I've fallen in love with Nobel-laureate Wislawa Szymborska, the kindly, gentle, and ferociously intelligent aunt to Rozewicz's intimidating uncle. If you like poetry, or simply appreciate good writing that captures the essence of people with hard-won soul, give them a try.