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Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People…

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who… (original 2006; edition 2006)

by Francine Prose

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2,502692,424 (3.76)178
Title:Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them
Authors:Francine Prose
Info:HarperCollins (2006), Hardcover, 288 pages
Collections:writing, Your library
Tags:non-fiction, writing, reading, first edition

Work details

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (P.S.) by Francine Prose (2006)

  1. 00
    Lady with Lapdog and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov (sturlington)
    sturlington: Prose refers to the short stories of Chekhov extensively.
  2. 00
    How Novels Work by John Mullan (ajsomerset)

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» See also 178 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 69 (next | show all)
Reading this book feels like taking an English class--both the good and the bad. (Also, I'm sure I'm not the first to say this, but can I just say how much I love Prose's last name?)

Admittedly, it took some time for me to get into this book. Even though I love reading and writing, there were times I felt frustrated with English classes because I felt that we were belaboring points that didn't deserve such cruel treatment. And I didn't always agree with Prose's assessments. But before long, I started really enjoying myself. Prose quotes extensively from classics--some of my favorite books of all time, some books I read and didn't like as much as she did, other books I haven't read but don't want to, and the rare few that I didn't read but am now doubly intrigued by.

One of my best takeaways from reading this book is a renewed fervor for classics. In middle school, I started exclusively reading classics, and devouring them, because I knew they were guaranteed to be good. During my rigorous four years in college, I discovered that there are actually some more recently published books that I enjoy--children's and YA. Then, I went wild and started reading tons of children's and YA. I still think that's valuable, because that's the literature I most enjoy, and well-written YA is stunning ([b:Seraphina|19549841|Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)|Rachel Hartman|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1387577872s/19549841.jpg|17375239], anyone?). But now I really want to temper that by returning to the classics that ignited my love for reading and writing in the first place.

Prose focuses, more than anything, on that which Stephen King, in [b:On Writing|10569|On Writing A Memoir of the Craft|Stephen King|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388192403s/10569.jpg|150292], said writers are so rarely asked about: language. This isn't a book to help you with plot holes, and clearly Prose is highly biased toward the literary. But I like the literary, too, and overall, I liked slowing down. ( )
  elephantine | Nov 27, 2015 |
This is a book where as soon as I got to the end I wanted to go straight back to the beginning again. It's no use borrowing it from the library and giving it back (says she who's done just that); this is a book that you need to own, to read and re-read over and over and over again, and to cover with pencil notes in the margin and copious underlining.

This book is so good IT NEEDS CAPITAL SHOUTY LETTERS. It's a phenomenal read, whether you're a wannabe writer or simply an avid reader who's interested in learning more about what makes a great book great. Examining all aspects of writing from words to narration to dialogue and gestures, Prose ultimately concludes that there are no fixed rules to great writing, but very different, well-executed strategies and observances which we can learn best through quality reading.

For example, we learn how Heinrich von Kleist used little or no physical descriptions of his characters in his writing, yet they leap vividly in our imagination. He defines his characters by their actions, whereas Jane Austen by contrast defines hers through their thinking. Two very different writing strategies, both extremely effective.

I warn you that this book, should you choose to read it, will do your wish list no good at all. Many, many pieces of narrative from a wide variety of amazing authors are used to exemplify the various writing points being made, and they were all amazing. I was disappointed that I didn't get to read on to the next part of the story with all of them, and it was a fantastic introduction to many authors I hadn't heard of before, as well as other greats which I just haven't got to yet.

If you write fiction, this book needs to be within grabbing distance for your next bout of writer's block.

5 stars - meticulously researched and well explained, you'll read in a whole new way after reading this book. ( )
6 vote AlisonY | Sep 29, 2015 |
An interesting read that reminded me why I didn't pursue English Lit beyond A-level. A little bit like physics, whilst I'm capable, I don't particularly enjoy it. Unlike physics, I firmly believe that lit crit / appreciation is often subjective - Prose's examples did nothing to dissuade me of this.

I'm not a huge fan of Literature with a capital L - I enjoy storytelling - and I do believe good writing can be found outside its hallowed halls. I would have enjoyed this book more without the whiff of snobbery (at one point a work is 'at risk' of appearing to be magical realism - how awful for it - rather than a Work of Art). And for my sins, I have no intention of reading Chekhov.

However, Prose is an engaging writer and her passion for literature is infectious. Her basic points are sensible and well-made for readers seeking to get under the skin of their books and for writers aspiring to make their words work a little harder - even if, as she is at pains to point out in the closing chapter, great literature largely shows us that all rules are made to be broken as long as you're good enough to get away with it. ( )
1 vote imyril | Mar 27, 2015 |
Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them really was eye-opening for me. I've been a reader practically all my life. The family story goes that I taught myself, but that was too long ago for me to remember how that happened or if it's true. But, like most of us, our education emphasized first *how* to read and memorizing new vocabulary words, then later unfortunately teachers dutifully discussing "classics" without much enthusiasm. In college, I was a science major so I missed out on classes that discussed great literature or classes on writing. One of my biggest regrets in life, really. Especially when I remember that as a kid I wanted to be "an author" when I grew up.

Author Francine Prose has helped make up for this void that I, and others, have experienced. She emphasizes being a careful, and slower, reader so as to fully appreciate nuanced meanings. Of course, not all books (i.e. Harlequin romances) require, or need, such close reading, and some books are intended to be true page-turners -- but Prose feels that reading with care makes for a better reader. I myself am guilty of being a fast reader, and I am sure that this trait has made it difficult for me to appreciate several good books over the years that I've tried to approach them.

Prose includes several excerpts and an intensive reading list (in the back of the book), and discusses different components of story, in chapters such as "Words", "Character", "Dialogue", "Details". These chapters are for readers and writers, both; they do not make one or the other audience feel left out. She also includes a chapter on Chekhov -- obviously, she is a great fan of him and other Russian writers such as Tolstoy and Nabokov. She even decries graduate students who have never read Dostoyevsky. Her thinking is that if one wants to be a good writer, one must read truly good writers as well, and understand what it is that makes them great. This advice seems to be obvious, actually; but I do agree that not all writers are good or wide-ranging readers. Prose concludes "If we wanted to grow roses, we would want to visit rose gardens and try to see them the way that a rose gardener would" (p. 268). That final sentence summarizes very well her purpose of this book.

My edition has a very good section at the end that includes a conversation (Q and A) with Francine Prose. I enjoyed that a great deal, also.

There is no index, which is disappointing -- if one wants to recall a certain work or author discussed, it can't be looked up. One has to thumb through the book instead. ( )
  ValerieAndBooks | Mar 18, 2015 |
It's certainly very beautifully written, and Prose has a lot of good advice and examples. Sometimes she gets tiresome, especially when she starts quoting extremely long passages or goes on and on about Chekhov. But other than that, she's pretty cool. And her advice IS good. ( )
  BrynDahlquis | Nov 13, 2014 |
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This book is dedicated to my teachers:
Monroe Engel, Alberta Magzanian, and Phil Schwartz.
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Book description
In this book — subtitled "A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them," — Prose shares how she developed her writing craft through writing and reading. She uses examples from literature to demonstrate how fictional elements, such as character and dialogue, can be mastered.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060777052, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:03 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

An insider's report on how professionals read and write instructs aspiring writers on the methods employed by such literary figures as Kafka, Austen, and Dickens, in a resource that draws on key examples to demonstrate the essentials of good plot and character development.… (more)

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