Reading Like a Writer

Recommended Read

Prose, Francine. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. [ISBN-13: 978-0-06-077705-0]

Seeing Francine Prose speak last week galvanized me into finally posting on a book of hers I read last winter. Reading Like a Writer is your chance to sit in Prose’s classroom, where you’ll pull out your magnifying glass to examine  just what it is that makes some of the finest books around really tick. This is a course in close reading that everyone can take.

Close reading is one of my favourite ways into the bones and sinews of a good book. You know the kind of book I mean—the book in which every word, detail, and turn of phrase feels as if it is the only one that could fit, as though it were somehow ordained from the beginning? Yeah, I’m remembering some of those books fondly right now…

But to get back to what I was saying, close reading asks you to slow down and ask yourself why the author chose that particular name for the little girl, why you don’t believe the aunt when she says she’s not drinking anymore, why it was Liberace playing on the radio when the taxi crashed. Each of these details reflects the broader story and each one can uncover another of its secrets.

Now, just as every good sleuth studies the case files of the great detectives who came before them, you can read Prose’s chapters on words, sentences, paragraphs, narration, character, dialogue, details, and gestures to learn how to unravel the mysteries your favourite books may still be concealing from you.

Prose provides a wealth of literary examples to show you what to look for: how Edith’s tepid and ill-fitting replies reveal that she’s just not that into Albert, how a boiled potato in a spreading pool of blood can make a scene more chilling, how the movements of a housefly can reveal the mind of its tormentor. After reading her examples, drawn from so many excellent books and stories, you’ll be glad to find that Prose has included all her sources in a list of “Books to Be Read Immediately.” And when you’re done this book, if you’re like me, you’ll be tempted to head back to all your favourite reads with an eye for what’s there that you haven’t yet seen.

2 Replies to “Reading Like a Writer”

  1. Thanks, Dan. I’m glad to hear that you’re enjoying the blog and that you’re planning to check out Prose’s book. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed–the whole book is engaging and fun to read, and the last two chapters (Learning from Chekhov and Reading for Courage) are especially fantastic.

    I stopped by your blog and read through some of your real-life grammar lessons. I’ve also added you to my blogroll. It’s great that you inject humour into your examples, which are often quite funny to begin with.

    Heather

  2. Just want to say that I love this blog and that my order for this book is jetting its way through cyberspace at this moment (you should get a finder’s fee royalty any time now). I look forward to each of your entries.

    Also, if you’re so inclined, I’d be honored if you’d check out my website, where I try to use a found grammatical or syntactical slip-up each day as a launching point for meaningless digressions.

    A faithful reader,

    Dan Weber

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