Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose

First, let me get this out of the way: Francine Prose is the absolute best name for an author, ever. Some people get all the luck.

Prose starts this book by saying essentially saying that she’s a creative writing teacher who kind of dislikes creative writing workshops. So you know right off the bat that this will not be a typical creative writing manual, and I loved her for it. Prose spends each chapter going over a specific element of style used in novels, going into detail about each element and using examples from various authors’ works. The chapter titles, if you’re curious, go like this: Close Reading, Words, Sentences, Paragraphs, Narration, Character, Dialogue, Details, Gesture, Learning from Chekhov, and Reading for Courage. The book ends with her list of Books To Be Read Immediately, which I found very helpful.

The chapter on sentences was my favorite, just for the way Prose just plain geeks out on the subject of sentences:
“To talk to another writer about sentences feels like forging a connection based on the most intimate and arcane sort of shop-talk, much the way mathematicians might bond on the basis of a shared admiration for some obscure, elegant theorem. Every so often I’ll hear writers say that there are other writers they would read if for no other reason than to marvel at the skill with which they can put together the sort of sentences that move us to read closely, to disassemble and reassemble them, much the way a mechanic might learn about an engine by taking it apart.
The well-made sentence transcends time and genre. A beautiful sentence is a beautiful sentence, regardless of when it was written, or whether it appears in a play or a magazine article. Which is just one of the many reasons why it’s pleasurable to read outside of one’s own genre. The writer of the lyrical fiction or of the quirkiest, most free-form stream-of-consciousness novel can learn by paying close attention to the sentences of the most logical author of the exactingly reasoned personal essay. Indeed, the brilliant sentences in Rebecca West’s journalism and travel writing often outsparkle those with which she composed her novels. This may suggest the possibility that certain writers’ sentences improve in proportion to the density and the gravity of the information they have to impart.”

Verdict: five out of five stars


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