Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them

by Francine Prose

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Long before there were creative-writing workshops and degrees, how did aspiring writers learn to write? By reading the work of their predecessors and contemporaries, says Francine Prose.

In Reading Like a Writer, Prose invites you to sit by her side and take a guided tour of the tools and the tricks of the masters. She reads the work of the very best writers—Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Kafka, Austen, Dickens, Woolf, Chekhov—and discovers why their work has endured. She takes pleasure in the long and magnificent sentences of Philip Roth and the breathtaking paragraphs of Isaac Babel; she is deeply moved by the brilliant characterization in George Eliot's Middlemarch. She looks to John Le Carré for a lesson in how to advance plot through dialogue, to Flannery O'Connor for the cunning use of the telling detail, and to James Joyce and Katherine Mansfield for clever examples of how to employ gesture to create character. She cautions readers to slow down and pay attention to words, the raw material out of which literature is crafted.

Written with passion, humor, and wisdom, Reading Like a Writer will inspire readers to return to literature with a fresh eye and an eager heart.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061751899
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/17/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 281,286
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Francine Prose is the author of twenty-one works of fiction, including Mister Monkey; the New York Times bestseller Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932; A Changed Man, which won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize; and Blue Angel, a finalist for the National Book Award. Her works of nonfiction include Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim, a Fulbright, and a Director’s Fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, she is a former president of PEN American Center and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She lives in New York City.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

April 1, 1947

Place of Birth:

Brooklyn, New York


B.A., Radcliffe College, 1968

Read an Excerpt

Reading Like a Writer

A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them
By Francine Prose

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Francine Prose
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060777044

Chapter One

Close Reading

Can creative writing be taught?

It's a reasonable question, but no matter how often I've been asked, I never know quite what to say. Because if what people mean is: Can the love of language be taught? Can a gift for storytelling be taught? then the answer is no. Which may be why the question is so often asked in a skeptical tone implying that, unlike the multiplication tables or the principles of auto mechanics, creativity can't be transmitted from teacher to student. Imagine Milton enrolling in a graduate program for help with Paradise Lost, or Kafka enduring the seminar in which his classmates inform him that, frankly, they just don't believe the part about the guy waking up one morning to find he's a giant bug.

What confuses me is not the sensibleness of the question but the fact that it's being asked of a writer who has taught writing, on and off, for almost twenty years. What would it say about me, my students, and the hours we'd spent in the classroom if I said that any attempt to teach the writing of fiction was a complete waste of time? Probably, I should just go ahead and admit that I've beencommitting criminal fraud.

Instead I answer by recalling my own most valuable experience, not as a teacher but as a student in one of the few fiction workshops I took. This was in the 1970s, during my brief career as a graduate student in medieval English literature, when I was allowed the indulgence of taking one fiction class. Its generous teacher showed me, among other things, how to line edit my work. For any writer, the ability to look at a sentence and see what's superfluous, what can be altered, revised, expanded, or especially cut is essential. It's satisfying to see that sentence shrink, snap into place, and ultimately emerge in a more polished form: clear, economical, sharp.

Meanwhile, my classmates were providing me with my first real audience. In that prehistory, before mass photocopying enabled students to distribute manuscripts in advance, we read our work aloud. That year, I was beginning what would become my first novel. And what made an important difference to me was the attention I felt in the room as the others listened. I was encouraged by their eagerness to hear more.

That's the experience I describe, the answer I give people who ask about teaching creative writing: A workshop can be useful. A good teacher can show you how to edit your work. The right class can form the basis of a community that will help and sustain you.

But that class, as helpful as it was, was not where I learned to write.

Like most, maybe all, writers, I learned to write by writing and, by example, from books.

Long before the idea of a writer's conference was a glimmer in anyone's eye, writers learned by reading the work of their predecessors. They studied meter with Ovid, plot construction with Homer, comedy with Aristophanes; they honed their prose style by absorbing the lucid sentences of Montaigne and Samuel Johnson. And who could have asked for better teachers: generous, uncritical, blessed with wisdom and genius, as endlessly forgiving as only the dead can be?

Though writers have learned from the masters in a formal, methodical way--Harry Crews has described taking apart a Graham Greene novel to see how many chapters it contained, how much time it covered, how Greene handled pacing, tone, and point of view--the truth is this sort of education more often involves a kind of osmosis. After I've written an essay in which I've quoted at length from great writers, so that I've had to copy out long passages of their work, I've noticed that my own work becomes, however briefly, just a little more fluent.

In the ongoing process of becoming a writer, I read and reread the authors I most loved. I read for pleasure, first, but also more analytically, conscious of style, of diction, of how sentences were formed and information was being conveyed, how the writer was structuring a plot, creating characters, employing detail and dialogue. And as I wrote I discovered that writing, like reading, was done one word at a time, one punctuation mark at a time. It required what a friend calls "putting every word on trial for its life": changing an adjective, cutting a phrase, removing a comma, and putting the comma back in.

I read closely, word by word, sentence by sentence, pondering each deceptively minor decision that the writer had made. And though it's impossible to recall every source of inspiration and instruction, I can remember the novels and stories that seemed to me revelations: wells of beauty and pleasure that were also textbooks, private lessons in the art of fiction.

This book is intended partly as a response to that unavoidable question about how writers learn to do something that cannot be taught. What writers know is that, ultimately, we learn to write by practice, hard work, by repeated trial and error, success and failure, and from the books we admire. And so the book that follows represents an effort to recall my own education as a novelist and to help the passionate reader and would-be writer understand how a writer reads.

When I was a high school junior, our English teacher assigned us to write a term paper on the theme of blindness in Oedipus Rex and King Lear. We were supposed to go through the two tragedies and circle every reference to eyes, light, darkness, and vision, then draw some conclusion on which we would base our final essay.

It all seemed so dull, so mechanical. We felt we were way beyond it. Without this tedious, time-consuming exercise, all of us knew that blindness played a starring role in both dramas.

Still, we liked our English teacher, we wanted to please him. And searching for every . . .


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Reading Like a Writer 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 60 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reading Like a Writer threatens to be the next On Writing Well or Bird by Bird, Theses are types of entry level books, which writing instructors require for an undergrad writing course. But this one falls short. Her canon and examples are meant to make professors nod or change, obviously avoiding and attempting to change the literature required in high school and in undergrad English programs. The list of books is a bit dated and some can really be out of touch for today's reader. As she continues on to the second half of the book her good-humored jabs and pleasant levity came less and less frequently and the prose analysis became less dynamic, then less objective, then more geared toward easily debatable opinion. This book excels over others such as Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Bird by Bird, in that you have the opinions of fiction from an extremely important American writer in our time. On the topic of technique, Prose breaks from the standard advice given to writers that they should 'show' action and personality instead of 'tell' through narration Prose says some of the greatest writing is telling (from a narrator's insight). She points to the opening page of Pride and Predjudice as an example of telling being wonderfully executed I point to Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude as a confirming example among my recent reads. And in the mass market, The DaVinci Code (though it would be poo-pooed by the literati) makes good use of telling, to really keep the plot moving and fast paced. I just think the problem with telling occurs when a narrator really has nothing interesting or engaging to add, or does not stay within 'the character' of the narrator, causing the telling to be simply fillerâ¿¿a construction of a lazy writer. The author must truly learn how to show before telling and that is why introductory writing material must stress this: there is just so much lazily constructed text that I think showing is a worthy goal for the beginner. The second gem of advice is the focus Prose places on crafting the perfect sentence. Learning the importance of agonizing over every word was beneficial to me and that alone made it worth purchasing this book. This is so tough to do. I was inspired and driven to increase the effort I had put into several sections for my novel and Prose's advice helped push me to the next level, so thank you Francine for that! What raised the book to a 3.75 out of 5, is the focus that Prose puts on reading quality literature while writing in order to emulate it, rather than avoiding brilliant writing so that you won't be discouraged when comparing. I add that even if you end up being pummeled to death by a writing group or a workshop through their excessively critical or conversely simple air-headed praise (where you're not even sure if they read it). I think there is an argument though that really makes for showing, in that in beginning to write you really need to know how to do both, and you for sure could see the examples (from your fiction class) where telling is an absolute cheap and easy way out of creating true tension or conflict in your work but now I'm seeing the benefits of both. I've gone through periods where I've hated reading pluperfect literature while writing because it is so discouraging, and periods where some great stuff has been soured in my eyes by one misinformed comment from a well-meaning classmate. I love reading the greats now while I'm writing, because I've given myself over to imitation. Joyceian, Bradburian and Mertonian. Why not? Go for it. If you can emulate without stealing, then you're writing really tight stuff and you're mimicking the proven techniques of the greatest writers. That's every writer's goal right? Write.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Francine Prose is fine craftsman and an inspiriting writer of fiction as well as book on history and art. In this current excellent book she shares her vast experience in teaching and in communicating with students, friends, critics, writers both alive and dead, and now with us, the fortunate audience. Prose is really talking about how both she and other writers practive their craft and in doing so she shares motivational information on how to better enjoy reading: her premise is that if we understand how great works are created we will better appreciated the art of reading. Beginning with a very informative essay on the concept of reading slowly, for the words and word structures, not unlike the old pastime of reading aloud to a group, Prose seduces us into her world of complete pleasure with the written word. She early on advises us as to the writers she most cherishes - and they are legion - and then develops a manner of looking at the page over several categories of thinking. Her chapters (after 'Close Reading') are as follows: Words, Sentences, Paragraphs, Narration, Character, Dialogue, Details, and Gestures. In each fascinating chapter she shows us how different authors have successfully addressed each issue of storytelling - and the examples are fascinatingly learned. Prose ends her book with words to encourage us to go back to the classics to better serve our reading of current literature. It all works well - we leave her book hungry to read more! Grady Harp
Renz0808 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book caught my eye recently mostly because the cover of the book states that it is like a long love letter to reading. This statement really intrigued me and I have to admit that I wanted to start reading this book immediately. I am so glad that I bought this book and began to read it because I really learned a lot of writing, and reading from its pages. Francine Prose discusses a lot of important points in her books about how to be a great writer by being a great reader at the same time. She stresses how to focus on every word, sentence and paragraph because each word or phrase is deliberately chosen by the author to convey their message. Another wonderful point she mentions is that there are no rules in literature and by reading literature we can define how some writers are able to successfully bend these ¿unspoken¿ rules. She emphasizes her argumentative points by choosing examples of literature, short stories and poetry to convey to her audience the importance of reading every word. These short blurbs of literature and short stories really made my wishlist of books to read grow by leaps and bounds. She also stresses how literature can been seen as an endless source of courage and confirmation to writers and readers and it an idea I have always found in my own life. Her humor and wit shine throughout the book and she inspired me to focus on every word I read and slow my pace when I am reading a book. I even want to go back to the books that I have loved so long and read every word again and focus on all the things that I learned from this book. This book is a wonderful and inspiring companion for any writer or reader and I plan returning to it often when I find myself rushing through a good book.
Marliesd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is pretty amazing--especially for all my literature teacher friends out there! I am enjoying her style, her examples, everything.
tinkettleinn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Prose explains that language is the writer's medium, and language is all the reader needs to understand a written work. Writers are perfectionists (I don't think there are any exceptions) so every word they use has meaning and serves a purpose. Language is carefully crafted to convey the writer's intention. If you unpack a single word in a poem, short story, or novel, you will find that it has a role - like a character - in the setting, plot, and general flow of the piece. Language is the most important component of any written work, and it often receives the least consideration or analysis.Prose writes that we should take our time with literature and enjoy the process of reading without worrying about the pace at which we're reading. She says this is why survey courses in Literature are not ideal. It's impossible to properly read and analyze ten great works of literature in a single semester. More attention needs to be given to reading a novel, not finishing it. Though, in the back of the book is a list of books in alphabetical order that Prose thinks should be read immediately. The list spans three pages. 'Immediately' sounds urgent. My fear is that I don't have enough time to read all of these books. Is it possible to forego sleep to acquire more time? Just think about all the time you lose sleeping. I do love reading and close reading. It's a slow and wonderful process. Finishing a book isn't as important to me as it once was. I've been reading long enough to be able to judge what's worth reading and which books just aren't worth finishing. It's also important to analyze what makes a book forgettable as well as what makes it memorable.
soylentgreen23 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I want to be a writer, but I'm still really not much good at writing. This book is perfect for me. Prose (what a delicious name!) takes you on a journey through the components of what makes a good book so good, from the right choice of words, to the structure of the sentence, all the way through to narrative and dialogue. It is a genius piece of writing in itself, as well as quoting from a feast of classics (both modern and classical). I will keep it close by next time I try to write something.
SamuelW on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I picked up Reading Like a Writer after a lecturer in my creative writing course decided to use it as fodder for one of her lectures. Unimpressed as I was with this lecture full of regurgitated material (delivered word for word from prepared notes), I decided that it would be better for me to just buy the book and read it myself. The mistake I made was to read it simultaneously with How Fiction Works by James Woods, who manages, in my opinion, to achieve everything Prose does in a third of the time, making for a much more effective lesson in creative writing.There are certainly gems of wisdom here, and a guided tour of some of the best work in the canon is valuable for any aspiring writer. After a while, however, Reading Like a Writer starts to become a bit monotonous. Prose¿s method is to introduce a point, provide an excerpt from a famous (dead) writer that illustrates her point, and then follow the excerpt with an analysis of particular choices the writer has made. Occasionally, she skips the follow-up and moves directly on to introducing the next excerpt. After several chapters of this, one cannot help picturing her drawing up her chapter headings ¿ `Words¿, `Sentences¿, `Paragraphs¿, `Narration¿, `Character¿, `Dialogue¿, `Details¿ and `Gesture¿ ¿ on sheets of paper, brainstorming lists of relevant passages from her repertoire of reading, and used these lists to write her book. Reading Like a Writer begins to feel like The Lecture I Would Give to My Creative Writing Students if There Were No Time Constraints Whatsoever.There are a couple of chapters, however, where Prose breaks the mould a little, my favourite of which is Chapter Ten, `Learning from Chekhov¿. To those who are pressed for time (i.e. everybody) and don¿t feel like slogging through the whole book, I would recommend reading just this chapter. Prose recalls her time at a college where she gave advice to her workshop students, only to have that advice invalidated each day by Anton Chekhov¿s short stories, which she read during the bus ride home. She tells one student, for example, that his story should be written from a single narrative point of view, only to be humbled by Chekov¿s drifting from character to character when she reads `Gusev¿ hours later. The moral of the story seems to be that, no matter what is said about how to write well, the opposite can also be true. It¿s enough to make me think twice about my own belief that good writing should be concise. Here I am, criticising Prose because I think her book should be shorter. Perhaps it should also be longer. Perhaps it should include all the wonderful writing in the world that it currently leaves out, and provide even more good advice than it does already.
guyaburdick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Prose (got to love the name) examines the benefits of close reading for both readers and writers. She works through the elements of fiction, beginning with words then sentences, paragraphs, dialogue, description, and narrative (showing vs. telling). She devotes an entire chapter to Chekhov. There's a recommended reading list (of all the works she discusses) at the end. I found it entertaining and illuminating.
sturlington on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Francine Prose¿s treatise on how to read begins with the admonishment to ¿read closely,¿ a useful reminder but hardly anything we haven¿t heard before. That was my impression of the entire book. It¿s full of good advice and good examples, but not exactly ground-breaking. Prose never digs very deeply into her material. All in all, I preferred Jane Smiley¿s Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel as an instruction manual for reading better.
bacillicide on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a hard book to review and rate because I have such conflicting thoughts about the content. On one hand, it did make me really think about structure, dialogue, and gestures of my novel. On the other hand, I feel like I learned nothing concrete--just that I should carefully think about those things, which is kind of frustrating.Overall I'd give it a 3.5. Worth the read definitely, if not for the prod into deeper thinking about the smallest things in your novel.
PhilipFOBrienJr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Francine Prose writes beautifully about what it means to read. To read at a deeper level. Not the way you do when you're studying for a test, or doing research, but reading as an active participant in the reader/writer dialog. Prose suggests that we read from the writers point of view; challenging us to try to understand what the writer is trying to accomplish and attempting to communicate to us. The text is adorned with lovingly crafted (and presented) bits of literature, deconstructed and analyzed for our benefit. Huge run-on length sentences by Henry James, which roll off the tongue effortlessly, and defy everything we were taught about what a sentence is, or even could be, are among the many things which make this book one that I've recommended in the past, and will turn to again in the future.The appendix contains a wonderful list of "Book to be read immediately".
Nodosaurus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reading Like a Writer is a description of writing. It focuses on the use of the word in literature, and makes excellent use of examples for well-known books to illustrate her points. Francine Prose describes the strengths of her selected passages and why the wording is important. The book is aimed at improving the readers ability to appreciate good literature. She discusses the nuances of word use, picking at the meaning of individual words, and what is not said and why that is important. She talks about the use of paragraphs, and how changing the paragraphing changes meaning of text. She shows how to derive meaning from what isn't stated in the text, and makes me appreciate the effort that a quality writer goes to to get the words right. After reading this work, I feel I have a new respect for literature. I'm eager to try to tackle some of the books she's recommended.
RidgewayGirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Most "how-to-write" books fall into one of two categories; either they are a textbook style list of writing exercises or the emphasize the creativity aspect and suggest things like dream journals. This book, thankfully, falls in neither category. Francine Prose uses this book to show and not tell us what good writing is. She divides the chapters into aspects of writing like sentences and paragraph breaks, but the real joy of this book are the fragments of novels liberally sprinkled through each chapter. From Scott Spencer to Gustave Flaubert and an especially liberal helping of Chekov, Prose gives example after example of what constitutes good writing.I found this book more inspiring and helpful than any other book on creative writing I've read since Stephen King's "On Writing".
meggyweg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Normally I don't much care for "how to write better" books. I don't find them to be very useful; I think if you want to learn how to write better fiction you're better off reading a lot of very well-written novels. However I found Prose's book quite useful, because in addition to her giving advice on such things as dialogue, characters, etc., she includes many excerpts from very good novels and explains what the writer did right. Most of the books she quoted from I haven't read myself, and I found myself wanting to. Although Reading Like a Writer took me awhile to get through, I think it was worthwhile. It's one of the few "how to write better" books I can recommend wholeheartedly to amateur fiction writers.
Cauterize on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book because the book's title describes one of my life's goals: to write a book someday (hopefully). I still don't think I'm ready to reach that goal, but this book helped me to start reading books in a different light.Sometimes I think I am the world's worst reader of literature. I tend to read everything literally rather than think of any themes, metaphors or analogies. I enjoy reading for plot, characters, dialogue but skip over the construction of the writing, what the author is trying to say by how they construct their prose. Francine Prose's book tries to teach someone like me, to read between the lines, and to analyze what makes great writing, great.Prose argues that one does not need classes or "how-to" books to learn how to write. She advocates that the best lesson for writing is close reading the work of great writers. Reading like a Writer basically excerpts famous works, and then Prose discusses how each passage shows great technique to construct sentences, character, tone, narration, dialogue, gestures, etc. Prose even includes a chapter on Checkov to show how he "breaks" all the previous rules.As a result of my background, I sometimes found it tough to do the close reading. I am a fast reader and tend to race through books to "find out what happens next". But for once, I really took my time to go through the passages and I do think it's influenced how I read. I'll admit, I still don't understand some of the points Prose tries to make (especially the paragraph section), but I feel I'm closer to understanding than I was before. Maybe I'm just thanking my lucky stars that someone actually tried to explain close reading; all my English lit classes all the way into University never did (and I did well in them!)Reading like a Writer was a NYTimes Bestseller, and it's easy to see why. Prose has a love of books and the written language, and her writing is very accessible. The passages she chose were from a very diverse group of writers and she even includes a list of "Books to be Read Immediately" that I will try to make a must-read for me in the next few years. Definitely Recommended.
duck2ducks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really smart about reading and writing. Also lots of GREAT recommendations on books to read. Multiples times I'd read a lengthy excerpt that she quoted for illustration and would have to add that to my reading list, so impressed was I by just that short bit.
Miss-Owl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful book! Warm, passionate, whimsical and humane.I usually have a huge problem with writing books (that is, books about writing) - they don't often practise what they preach! The didactic and the lyrical don't always mix well. And, all right, sometimes they are just compilations of writing exercises that I am just too lazy to do :)I loved the no-nonsense sense of structure in this book, delineated by each chapter: word, sentence, paragraph... just simple and beautiful, the building blocks of literature. Gentle ways of analysing without dissecting.It's funny because although Prose has such a wide and varied knowledge of books, I don't feel woefully underread so much as I feel awfully hungry for more reading. Her wisdom and insight make me realise that I have just read certain some things at too young an age (like Chekhov), just out of the concrete stage, and now that I am older, that these authors are well worth a revisit. And I always mean to read Henry Green, the author whose novel I was to present a paper on, only to be reassigned to Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow when Party Going was out of print. Blechhh!So while this book, more than anything, increased my passion for reading - it will be my companion the next time I walk into a library or a bookshop, and then woe betide my wallet - funnily enough, it hasn't really increased my appetite to write. It makes me want to consume, not produce, fiction, which is somewhat paradoxical. Maybe what it's missing is the hard word from the 'bums on seats' school of writing. Roald Dahl famously called it 'stamina'.
citygirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful book. Ms. Prose, an aptly named writer, writing/lit instructor and critic, shares some of her favorite passages from novels and stories to highlight techniques for using words, narrative, character, gesture etc. And she's not shy about her worship of Chekhov (guess I should read him). Very enjoyable to read, it provides great information without being the least bit pedantic or boring. She even provides a list of "Books to Be Read Immediately," from which many of the passages are taken. This is a woman who is truly in love with fiction. I'll be referring back to this often.
the_alchemist on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the most useful books about writing that I've read, not least because it's not about writing, it's about reading.It has taught me the importance of correcting two of my biggest writerly vices - not reading enough good quality fiction, and reading way too quickly. Whether or not I'll be able to correct them is, of course, another matter, though the fact that I'm quite so eager to get my hands on several of the novels and stories Prose mentions or quotes from is presumably a good sign. Particularly the one about the man who falls in love with a bear.
Zommbie1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A really really great book for anyone who writes for pleasure or profit. I really felt like the author spoke to me. I am keeping it on my reading shelf because I think I need to re-read it again and at a more clippy pace this time. If I were to offer one criticism of the book it would be that the author uses examples from books I have never heard about. She uses loads of famous books but some are a bit more obscure and that stopped me in my tracks at some times. I recommend reading the books she talks about, I think I would have gotten more enjoyment out of it if I had.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Prose shows us all her favorite passages from a lifetime of good reading. It was a lovely trip and it took me places I would not have thought to go. I especially liked Prose's thoughts on writing, how good writing often breaks the conventional rules of good writing.
upstairsgirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Francine Prose's book is a great guidebook for the literary tourist, a thorough and engaging reminder to actually look at the ways in which what you're reading has been constructed - to look at each word, sentence, and paragraph so as to understand what is and isn't said, what it tells you, and why. Along the way, she introduces you to countless authors you have and haven't heard of, giving you just enough of a taste that you want to read them all. (Well. I don't want to read Pynchon or Flaubert or Nabokov again, but I can see where you'd feel like you might.)She addresses, sort of obliquely, the question of whether writing workshops and classes are "worth it" and whether there are rules of construction that can be taught or imparted or imbibed, and comes to the conclusion that the rules are really more like guidelines, and that there as many good reasons to break the rules as to follow them.The examples in the text form the basis of a great reading list, and following the book is a list - containing some books from which Prose has taken examples, and others that she has not - which is also excellent. She has a definite taste for the old masters, and for Russian lit, but more importantly she has excellent taste in literature, and an excellent eye for how writers do what they do. I disagreed with some of her analyses, but I really enjoyed the book, and highly recommend it to readers and writers alike.
KinnicChick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderfully helpful book on reading to learn for writers. It is like a writers' workshop, taught by an experienced novelist, on topics such as narration, character, dialogue and more, using examples from great literature.I read much of this book a few years back when it first came out (2006) and decided to return to it now and reread it because I really couldn't remember much about it. My bookmark was about halfway through the book and as I returned to those first several chapters, I was really shocked that I didn't remember the majority of what I'd read. Obviously, I had done a crap job of reading close the first time I read it. Because this book is seriously a treasure trove of great information for writers and also for readers who just want to get more out of some of the great books they are reading. After all, it isn't a book exclusively for writers. The subtitle is, "A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them."In the back of the book, the author includes a list of all of the books she references: "Books to be Read Immediately." I can't wait to get started!
neurodrew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An author of fiction, and more illuminatingly, a teacher of writing and fiction, explains her approach to reading literature as a study of how to construct sentences, paragraphs and character. Pleasant to read, persuasive, but mostly like a seminar paper in english literature. She is interested mainly in relationships and character, does not address conveying plot or action. There are long passages from other writers in the book, and some personal remembrances, and it feels like it was summarized from lectures. I don¿t know if I would want to be the kind of writer she admires, I would rather tell a straightforward story than allow for the dense critical analysis of my word choice and characterization.
wndevro on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this. Would be a good tool to expand discussion in book group.