Book Review: Reading Like A Writer

Reading Like A Writer: A Guide For People Who Love Books And For Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine Prose

It is perhaps inevitable that someone named Francine Prose would not only love literature enough to write books on the subject but also to teach it to other people. If there was ever a case of naming being an aspect of destiny, this is one such case. Be that as it may, if this book feels somewhat inevitable it is by no means anything less than an enjoyable work by someone who very clearly loves books, especially with regards to literary fiction, and wishes to encourage others to read such fiction in a thoughtful manner that aids one in understanding what the big deal of such works are. There is an idea that this book endorses that there are moral and intellectual gains to people who can learn to read well, and that reading well is an important step in learning how to write well. As there are a great many people who long to write the great American novel, this book is a means by which the author can instruct others in internalizing the approach that great authors take to their writing so that we can write in our own fashion in a compelling way. And if that is a modest virtue, it is certainly one that I personally appreciate.

This book is about 275 pages long and it is divided into elven chapters that discuss various ways by which authors write in a fashion that is worth reading closely and attentively. The author begins with a defense of close reading in general (1), and then discusses the basic building blocks of good writing in appropriate word choice (2), the construction of intriguing sentences (3), and the construction of paragraphs (4). There are then chapters on a variety of means by which authors construct the world of their novels, including narration (5), where a choice must be made on the perspective(s) chosen in a given story, the delineation of character (6), the presence and use of dialogue (7), the addition of worthwhile and appropriate details (8), and the importance of gestures (9). After all of this preparatory material, the author shares what she thinks someone can learn from Chekov (10), and how it is that we as human beings can read for courage (11), after which the author provides a list of books to be read immediately as well as acknowledgements.

One of the aspects of writing workshops and classes that is particularly troublesome is that there are various rules that are pitched as being infallible that seek to mold writers in a particular way. When we examine good literature, we find that many writers used a variety of different ways to make compelling fiction that was true to their own vision of the world and that demonstrated their own creativity and originality. Certain writers do a lot of telling despite the presence of rules to show and not tell, and end up telling very worthwhile and enjoyable tales. Some writers have long sentences and paragraphs that challenge the very meaning of run-ons. Some writers ignore whole areas of writing, such as Jane Austen’s lack of attention given to matters of gesture, which might get in the way of sparkling wit. Many writers have experienced with more or less interesting but unreliable narrators, the better to help the reader get sucked into a story in spite of our best defenses. The author, for understandable reasons, finds such things well worth celebrating, and for those who appreciate this book there is a large collection of books that the author reads must be read now for readers of this book, making it a contender in lists of “Great Books” along with many other such volumes.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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