Book: Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose
Genre: writing book
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication date: 2007
Source: A gift from my friend Antona, aka Tayé Foster Bradshaw
Summary: Writers struggle to choose the right word, form a well-ordered sentence and paragraph, and tell a story from an intriguing viewpoint with the perfect details. Francine Prose advises writers to seek help in what has already been written. Read to see how other writers’ words set the perfect mood, paint vivid images, and convey layers of meanings. Reading Like a Writer reminds us to be careful observers of the written word.
Thoughts: Reading Like a Writer invites close reading. What a scary project for Francine Prose to take on, knowing that the book in hand would be the first book judged to be worthy (or not) of close reading. Reading Like a Writer stands up well, demonstrating many ways a book can fascinate its reader.
Humor, in a passage about learning from predecessors:
And who could have asked for better teachers: generous, uncritical, blessed with wisdom and genius, as endlessly forgiving as only the dead can be? p. 3
Wise advice for areas far beyond writing:
Ranting is another thing that should be done sparingly in literature, as in life, with an eye to why and how long a reader will stay interested in a character who just keeps on talking. p. 189
Enchanting image and metaphor:
Children love the imagination, with its kaleidoscopic possibilities and its protest against the way that children are always being told exactly what’s true and what’s false, what’s real and what’s illusion. Perhaps my taste in reading had something to do with the limitations I was discovering, day by day: the brick walls of time and space, science and probability, to say nothing of whatever messages I was picking up from the culture. I liked novels with plucky heroines like Pippi Longstocking, the astringent Jane Eyre, and the daughters in Little Women, girls whose resourcefulness and intelligence don’t automatically exclude them from the pleasures of male attention.
Each word of these novels was a yellow brick in the road to Oz. p. 6
Unfortunately, the other books I read at the same time didn’t reward close reading with deft turns of phrase and delicious descriptions. I had to work to switch off my inner close reader to appreciate the other attributes of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias, and Ebony and Ivy by Craig Steven Wilder.
Obviously, I read for many reasons other than beautiful writing. In fact, I’ve been known to say that I prefer clarity over beauty in fiction, since superfluous style can get in the way of a good story. After reading Reading Like a Writer, I suspect I’ll be more tolerant of delightful prose.
I am pleased that the most recent book I started, My Love Affair with England by Susan Allen Toth, is a worthy successor to Reading Like a Writer, rewarding careful readers with a magic carpet of expressive elements to transport us across an ocean.
Appeal: Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose benefits the writer in obvious ways, but readers, too, will be fascinated by benefit of close reading — and, especially, the sample passages and suggestions for further reading.
Challenges: Reading Like a Writer is the first book I completed in 2014. It’s appropriate that it works for two different challenges: the first of four books for the New Year’s Years Resolution Reading Challenge (to support the resolution Be a Better Reader) and the first of 16 to 20 books for the 2014 Nonfiction Reading Challenge.
Reviews: Teresa of Shelf Love liked Reading Like a Writer for how it helped her be a more attentive reader. Rebecca of Rebecca Reads revisited the way she read in college literary courses. Lindsay of The Little Reader Library is, like me, “a reader who would love to write.” She appreciated how Reading Like a Writer inspired close reading and better writing.
Have you read this book? What did you think?