Posted by: oneyearbook | June 20, 2009

Book: Reading Like a Writer

Reading Like a Writer

Reading Like a Writer

Been a little while since I discussed a writing-advice book. The latest one I picked up at the library was Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them, and I really can’t recommend it enough. Prose has taught writing for more than twenty years and reading the book – which has a warm, personal voice – feels almost like being in a class with her. She’s clear, off the top, that her answer to the question of whether writing can be taught is a conditional yes: writing workshops can teach you a million things, including how to edit, how to communicate about your work, how to take criticism, how to listen and understand how others are reading it. But there is one class that is freely available to all that can really put you on the path to being a better writer, and that’s the master’s class offered by reading great lit.

From there the book continues as a detailed lesson in close reading, the act of reading good books one word at a time, of seeing how each word comes together to create the whole. Prose’s book is split up into a variety of topics, from dialogue to gesture to character, and in each section she takes passages from three or four books, lays them out, and discusses how they make their dialogue/gesture/character/whatever work for them. With each passage – they’re very well chosen – there’s the burst of recognition: so that’s how you do that!

This goes hand-in-hand with what I’ve been trying to do with my own close-reading project, begun a little while ago with You Went Away. How does he do that? I ask, and try to worm the answer out of the book, no matter how reluctant it may be to give it up. Normally I’m quite a fast reader (gulps, not sips), but Prose suggests that in terms of my writing, I would be better served by a slower, focussed reading.

Anyway, of all the writing books I’ve read so far this year, I’d say this one has been the most inspiring and the most technically interesting – so if you’re looking for something to read about the craft, this is my suggestion.


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