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13 Ways of Looking at the Novel [Kindle Edition]

Jane Smiley
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $17.95
Kindle Price: $11.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling novelist Jane Smiley celebrates the novel–and takes us on an exhilarating tour through one hundred of them–in this seductive and immensely rewarding literary tribute.

In her inimitable style–exuberant, candid, opinionated–Smiley explores the power of the novel, looking at its history and variety, its cultural impact, and just how it works its magic. She invites us behind the scenes of novel-writing, sharing her own habits and spilling the secrets of her craft. And she offers priceless advice to aspiring authors. As she works her way through one hundred novels–from classics such as the thousand-year-old Tale of Genji to recent fiction by Zadie Smith and Alice Munro–she infects us anew with the passion for reading that is the governing spirit of this gift to book lovers everywhere.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews


“Engaging. . . . Down-to-earth. . . . Smiley’s unmediated voice–blunt, uncompromising and witty–rings from every page. . . . She inspires wicked delight.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review

“A massive victory. . . . Awfully smart. . . . Always a pleasure.” –The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Provocative. . . . Wise and humane. . . . It reminds readers of the novel why they love their avocation. . . . I most heartily recommend it.” –Marjorie Kehe, The Christian Science Monitor

“Thorough, insightful. . . . Sure to inspire delicious debate and excite interest in undiscovered works. . . . Her critiques are shrewd, artful and unflinching. . . . Thirteen Ways continues to whisper its profundities long after the last page is turned.” –Rocky Mountain News

From the Trade Paperback edition.

About the Author

Jane Smiley is the Pulitzer Prize—winning author of more than ten novels as well as four works of nonfiction, including a critically acclaimed biography of Charles Dickens. She is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for her novel A Thousand Acres, and in 2001 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in northern California.

Product Details

  • File Size: 956 KB
  • Print Length: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (December 10, 2008)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001NJUOO4
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #157,673 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
I read mostly non-fiction and view novels as overly descriptive pieces for people who believe in storytelling as an Art with a capital A. After reading over 100 pages of this book I realize I've been sitting on a high horse of my own. My opinion of the novel was narrow and simplistic. Smiley makes a place for every sort of novel and author at her table, without negative judgment, and it makes for interesting talk. Her ideas are lively and interesting. She really opened my eyes and could have easily titled the book "Infinite Ways of Looking At the Novel". This book is going to get me back to reading more novels. I never expected to have that reaction to this book. Indeed, I probably started it looking to bolster my low opinion of novelists.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some might enjoy only half of this book April 12, 2007
The first half of the book is a philosophical/intellectual discussion of different aspects of a novel (point of view, plot, story type, etc) along with some historical consideration of how the "novel" format has developed over time. Smiley seems to get off-track in parts of this section, and I found myself getting bored from time to time as she expounded too much on a chapter's thesis.

The second half of the book is really awesome. A compendium of 101 novels, with a 1-3 page synopsis of why the novel is important. It's a nice reference for choosing a "great" book to read without resorting to a high school curriculum list. Beware, Smiley goes into detail about plot, so there are spoilers in her descriptions of the novels.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thirteen plus ways to look at a novel February 15, 2008
"13 Ways of Looking at the Novel" by Jane Smiley was very informative to me as an avid reader. It provided in-depth information on how to read a novel more closely, in addition to bringing my attention to various literary items in books that I had read but missed.

The first half of the book opens your eyes to the development of a novel; including plot, point of view, and character development. However, sometimes Ms. Smiley when a little overboard in her analysis of a novel's structure. One of the main reasons I give this book four-stars instead of five-stars is that Ms. Smiley tended to repeat various items regarding certain novels, which you can ascertain are some of her favorites.

The second half of the book, which is a comprehensive summary of 101 novels she read, is exceptional and is worth the price of the book. This section has prompted me to read or re-read some of the books, even though she tends to tell you want the book's plot in her summary. Moreover, her extensive vocabulary has provided an impetus for me to add these lively words to my vocabulary. Ms. Smiley's descriptions make you want to grab the book and read it any way.

If you have ever wanted to write a book and need some guidance on the process, this is the book. In addition, if you are a reader and want to know more about how a book is written and the characteristics and symmetry of books, this is the book. I hope that Ms. Smiley does another book of this type in the future.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but idiosyncratic June 11, 2009
In assigning three stars to this book I may be misleading the reader. For those attuned to Jane Smiley's sensibility, this will be a five-star book; for those who are not it will be a one-star book. This is not a study of the novel as form so much as it is what the title infers--ways of looking at the novel. As such it is more personal (some would say idiosyncratic) and, as inferred above, of varying degrees of usefulness.

The book actually attempts to do several things at once: a) explore key aspects of novelistic fiction; b) offer advice on the writing of novelistic fiction; c) record personal experience with regard to the writing of specific novelistic fiction; and d) discuss 100 novels. It is thus, by turns, a scholarly book, a how-to book and a reference book.

The discussions of novelistic fiction are interesting. They are particularly interesting because they are out of the critical mainstream. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since previous scholarship canalizes discussion and, in its way, narrows the imagination. Jane Smiley's reflections, e.g., on the origins of the novel are, as a result, quite different from those of Watt, McKeon, Hunter, Doody, et al. who tell a very different story than the story told here. Most scholars will find Smiley's comments naïve and uninformed though not uninteresting and not without their uses.

The how-to sections of the book are also interesting, though they are not as systematic as one would expect in a how-to book. Aspiring novelists will enjoy Smiley's anecdotes, her encouragement and her wisdom. Nevertheless, they are still likely to need a more consciously hands-on book like Scott Meredith's.

The discussions of the 100 novels are unsystematic.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars On the contrary April 28, 2007
Contrary to the opinion expressed by the previous reviewer, I found the first section of the book, a detailed and personable analysis of the structure and development of the novel as a literary form over time, to be informative, provocative and amusing, while the second section, a compilation of far too brief and schematic reviews of 101 novels, seemed trite and unhelpful (in fact, the comments and quotations about those novels that Ms. Smiley intersperses in the first section to illustrate her arguments are often more stimulating and insightful than the specific reviews). As a result, I would recommend this book highly to anyone keen on becoming a writer or learning more about the inner workings of the novel, but not to those who are looking simply for reading lists or book-club suggestions.

Ps. The title refers to the beautiful poem by Wallace Stevens, "Thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird."
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Good coverage of an interesting subject
Some unique choices on the one hundred novel list. Written in text book style making for a hard read. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Robert Harris
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent resource for helping to unblock your writer's block
I revisited this novel over the holidays to help unblock a writer's block. It worked.

Jane Smiley read 100 selected novels over a period of years and uses that reading... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Vesna Rafaty
5.0 out of 5 stars gifted
my daughter has always done some writing and she said this was a wonderful insight into what makes a good writer.
Published 10 months ago by mona m steen
5.0 out of 5 stars A Best Read
This book is outstanding! It has depth and breadth and is packed with useful, thought provoking insights. I have reread it twice so far.
Published 12 months ago by Karen Lawrence
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth the time and effort to absorb this extended analysis
Personal, thoughtful extended analysis of the literary art form, 'the novel'. A a prize winning author and teacher looks at what the novel is. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Jonathan Radin
5.0 out of 5 stars I like the book, hate it in Kindle format
I like this book. Smiley is a clear and informative writer; I like her style. That said, I'm going to have to order this book in hard copy because trying to read it on my Nexus... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Mary
2.0 out of 5 stars Wasn't Helpful
I was really looking forward to reading this book as it was recommended by Ms. Weiland (and I LOVED her book on outlining your novel). But it wasn't for me. Read more
Published on May 11, 2012 by Addicted to Reading
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful affirmation of the novel and novel reading
There were times I got bogged down, but I found this work to be a wonderful affirmation of the novel and novel reading; it crystallized ideas I already had as well as providing... Read more
Published on March 4, 2012 by algo41
3.0 out of 5 stars Scattered thoughts of an author in search of her muse? Buy it anyway?
My sense is that this book is best suited to precisely no one. The literary elite can find much more sophisticated and scholarly analyses of what a novel is. Read more
Published on March 9, 2009 by Quickhappy
4.0 out of 5 stars The beauty of inflections or the beauty of innuendoes
Very interesting. Smiley has refreshing opinions on how novels are written and how they achieve their effects -- such as the relative entertainment value of the first-person... Read more
Published on September 24, 2007 by Susan W
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