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Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Themby Francine Prose
Reading Like a Writer is a treasure chest. You can crack it open at any chapter and come away enriched. Prose is one of the best teachers around, and for the price of a paperback, you are getting an Ivy League education in writing. For people who love books, Prose will enhance their reading experience. The list of books "to be read immediately" is a great collection of old and new classics. For writers, the book is nothing short of a revelation.
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"The trick to writing, Prose writes, is reading — carefully, deliberately and slowly. While this might seem like a no-brainer, Prose (Blue Angel; A Changed Man) masterfully meditates on how quality reading informs great writing, which will warm the cold, jaded hearts of even the most frustrated, unappreciated and unpublished writers. Chapters treat the nuts and bolts of writing (words, sentences, paragraphs) as well as issues of craft (narration, character, dialogue), all of which Prose discusses using story or novel excerpts. This is where the book truly shines; Prose is remarkably egalitarian in choosing exemplars of fiction: David Gates, Denis Johnson, John le Carr and ZZ Packer, for instance, are considered as seriously as Chekhov, Melville, Flaubert or Babel. Prose insists that 'literature not only breaks the rules, but makes us realize that there are none,' and urges writers to re-read the classics (Chekhov, especially) and view 'reading as something that might move or delight you.' Prose's guide to reading and writing belongs on every writer's bookshelf alongside E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Do you really want to read like a writer? Think carefully about the question, book lovers, because you may come to rue the powers you desire. Reading like a writer means reading with a hyper-awareness of craft, analyzing, rather than simply surrendering to, the power of literature. Worshippers of 'The Great Gatsby' will recall Nick Carraway's first sun-splashed glimpse of Daisy Buchanan, but those... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) who read with a doubled consciousness will want to figure out how that magical scene came to breathe on the page. They'll scrutinize F. Scott Fitzgerald's sentence structure, rhythm, word choice and placement of adjectival phrases. Even as they're being swept away by his prose, they can't help but diagram the author's sentences. It's probably difficult for Francine Prose, at this point in her career, just to kick back and let her critical antennae droop. Not only is Prose an acclaimed novelist (her most recent novel, 'A Changed Man,' received rave reviews; 'Blue Angel' was a finalist for the National Book Award), but she's also a distinguished cultural critic, a regular book reviewer (for The Washington Post, among other publications) and a teacher of creative writing and literature who has lectured in colleges across the land. Prose says that she learned to write by reading, and so, in her latest book, 'Reading Like A Writer,' she aims 'to recall my own education as a novelist and to help the passionate reader and would-be writer understand how a writer reads.' Part creative writer's guide, part homage to the enduring wisdom of Strunk and White's 'The Elements of Style,' Prose's book, like so many other fine reflections on reading that have been published in recent years, champions the academically unfashionable art of close reading. Prose divides 'Reading Like a Writer' into chapters with no-nonsense titles such as: 'Words,' 'Sentences,' 'Narration' and 'Dialogue.' Each chapter contains autobiographical commentary and lots of excerpts — sometimes several pages long — from the short stories and novels she admires. Prose genuflects before reliable standards such as Chekhov, Joyce, Austen and Dickens, but also before masters relatively new to discussions of revered writers: Heinrich von Kleist, Stanley Elkin, Deborah Eisenberg, Katherine Mansfield, L. P. Hartley and Denis Johnson. Indeed, surveying Prose's eclectic recommended reading list at the back of the book (cheekily entitled: 'Books to Be Read Immediately') will surely evoke both the thrill of discovery and a frisson of shame in those who consider themselves serious readers. Prose's trademark perspicacity infuses what might otherwise be a workmanlike analysis of the craft of writing. Ruminating on the problem of narration, for instance, she recalls that she 'tricked' herself into writing her first novel by imagining it as a story-within-a-story, a narrative 'told by one character to another' that the reader would eavesdrop on. Prose explains: 'The reason I say "tricked myself" was that this device enabled me to overcome one of the obstacles confronting the novice writer. This hurdle disguises itself as the question of voice and of who is telling the story ... when in fact the truly problematic question is: Who is listening? On what occasion is the story being told, and why? Is the protagonist projecting this heartfelt confession out into the ozone, and, if so, what is the proper tone to assume when the ozone is one's audience?' As that witty excerpt suggests, Prose's critical style adheres more to the cool cucumber tradition of, say, Virginia Woolf than to the frenzied tail-wagging school of Pauline Kael. If there's a flaw in 'Reading Like a Writer,' it's that Prose's elegant restraint makes for an insightful but not particularly moving tribute to good writing. Only in 'Learning from Chekhov' does Prose lose her critical cool. In this charged chapter, she recalls commuting by a long round-trip bus ride to a teaching job. You can sketch in the dreary details of the station where she waits for the perpetually late bus: junkies, greasy food, blaring television. And then, once the ride gets underway, Prose ritually picks up the Constance Garnett translations of Chekhov's stories — stories that not only mischievously upend some of the writing advice that, hours before, she had been preaching to her students but that also make her sigh: 'Reading Chekhov, I felt not happy, exactly, but as close to happiness as I knew I was likely to come.' Just as Kael famously 'lost it at the movies,' Prose, here, lost it on the bus. In this essay, which appropriately comes toward the end of her book, close reading leads Prose back to the place where all desires to 'read like a writer' start: sputtering fandom. Maureen Corrigan is the book critic for the NPR program 'Fresh Air' and author of the literary memoir 'Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading.'" Reviewed by Maureen Corrigan, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"As the title suggests, this book is likely to find its audience with readers who are also writers or who long to be." Library Journal
"In this excellent guide, Prose explains exactly what she means by 'close reading,' drawing attention to the brick and mortar of outstanding narratives....In the process, she does no less than escort readers to a heightened level of appreciation of great literature." School Library Journal
"Like the great works of fiction, it's a wise and voluble companion." New York Times
About the Author
Francine Prose is the author of fourteen books of fiction, including, most recently, A Changed Man and Blue Angel, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. She has taught literature and writing for more than twenty years at major universities such as Harvard, Iowa, Columbia, Arizona, and the New School. She is a distinguished critic and essayist. Prose lives in New York City.
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