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

4.2 out of 5 stars 204 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0060777043
ISBN-10: 0060777044
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Prose’s little guide will motivate ‘people who love books’…Like the great works of fiction, it’s a wise and voluble companion.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Witty...Insightful.” (Washington Post Book World)

“a jewel of a companion…engrossing...and...daringly insightful.” (Los Angeles Times)

“The passages are…subtle and brilliant in their capture of human complexity…Prose is…a skilled…analyst of what makes them so.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“Reading Like A Writer is different from the rest of the pack…[Prose’s] wise book serves as an ispirational reminder.” (Washington Times)

“Sensible, valuable and highly readable, Reading Like a Writer deserves perusal — both in and out of the classroom.” (Kansas City Star)

“Celebrates the pleasures of close reading and explores the power of well-wrought language…refreshing” (Time Out New York)

“An absolutely necessary addition to the personal library of anyone who is a writer or dreams of writing.” (National Public Radio)

“Makes a case for the rewards of reading.” (Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel)

“Prose knows when to be funny, how to wield examples, and when to stop.” (More magazine)

“Readable and illuminating…few…advice volumes offer as much insight into writing as you will find in Francine Prose’s latest book” (Capital Times)

“Prose’s guide to reading and writing belongs on every writer’s bookshelf alongside E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

From Booklist

A consummate novelist and critic, Prose is also a seasoned teacher who approaches the art of writing through the art of reading. By reading attentively and analytically, one acquires a wealth of literary knowledge through "some sort of osmosis," observes Prose, who views novels and short stories as "wells of beauty and pleasure that were also textbooks, private lessons in the art of fiction." Prose now shares the revelations she gleans from reading literature in a vibrant and pleasurable guide for aspiring writers and ardent readers curious about what makes a masterpiece. Prose always finds unexpected paths to surprising disclosures, and she is especially good company here as she imparts her deep appreciation for the crafting of superior sentences, effective paragraphs, arresting narrative voices, and riveting dialogue. Prose's observations are incandescent, and her examples are thrilling, ranging from Samuel Johnson to Katherine Mansfield, Flannery O'Connor, Raymond Chandler, Stanley Elkin, and Paula Fox. Of course, we read for truths beyond technique, as Prose attests, describing literature as "an endless source of courage and confirmation." Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (August 22, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060777044
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060777043
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (204 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #405,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Francine Prose, in "Reading Like a Writer," argues that creative writing cannot be taught in a classroom. A workshop may provide valuable encouragement and support for a fledgling writer, and a good instructor may show a novice how to edit his work more effectively. However, a writer learns his craft by reading and rereading the books, novels, plays, and short stories of great writers, and he improves his skills through practice. Prose recommends studying "meter with Ovid, plot construction with Homer, comedy with Aristophanes." She backs up her thesis by giving a host of examples from writers she admires, such as Austen, Hemingway, Joyce, Chekhov, and others who are a bit more obscure.

Prose discusses the basics, including the use of the exact word, sentence building, paragraphing, point of view, character, and dialogue. Close reading, she asserts, enables us to understand not only what the writer is stating, but also what he is implying. The subtext is often as important, if not more important, than the text itself. Throughout "Reading Like a Writer" are excerpts, some brief, some lengthy, from a variety of sources, followed by Prose's witty, insightful, and informative commentary. Why does the writer choose one particular word or phrase rather than another? How do the seemingly minor details and gestures in a scene sometimes convey more information than the characters' statements?

"Reading Like a Writer" is not a handbook or a manual. It is a love letter to the mysterious alchemy, the magic that occurs when a reader encounters a book, poem, or story that not only entertains him, but also moves and transforms him.
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Format: Hardcover
You certainly are a person who enjoys reading. The beauty of this book is that its author teaches us how to read carefully, deliberately and slowly in order to digest and extract the ideas behind the words, and also to identify the style of an specific writer. By doing so Francine Prose gives us the tool that we may require to become a better writer. Basically is a process of learning by example, and Prose goes all the way to select and bring us a lot of examples, both from classical and contemporary authors.

As you advance through the chapters you will find examples covering the fundamentals of writing, including aspects related to narrative, plot development, characters creation, as well as the basics of sentence and paragraph structure.

Even if you have no intention at all of becoming a writer you will love this book, since it also teaches us how to have a better appreciation of what we read.
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Format: Hardcover
Because my opinion is so divergent from the other reviews here (all but two gave five-stars), I read them to see what I might have missed. Instead I found myself wondering whether we had read the same book: See "Review the Reviews" below. Reviewer Bukowsky (October 2, 2006) states "... not a handbook or a manual. It is a love letter ..." thereby unintentionally capturing the basic failing of this book - its title states that it is "A Guide ..."

What I expected was a series of examples with analysis of what made them work or not work. There were far fewer examples than I expected, the analysis was typically slight, and there was too much extraneous material.

For example, in the chapter on "Sentences", too much of the commentary on the examples was simply effusive praise of the sentence's author. I strongly disagreed with Prose's assessment of roughly a third of the sentences cited, but she didn't provide enough analysis for me to understand her point of view (declarations of something as great is not an argument).

In the chapter on "Paragraphs", the author starts with an example from Babel's "Crossing into Poland." At first I thought it strange to be using a translated work as an example, but then she presented another translation as a counterpoint. I then thought "What a brilliant way to get examples of the effects of the differences in choices by two professional writers." However, she failed to effectively follow through. Also, I differed with her on the analysis of the passage in question: "... the highroad ... built ... upon the bones of peasants." Her analysis was that it "introduced some element of unease.
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20 Comments 302 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
While I am pleased to add Francine Prose's "Reading Like a Writer" to my how-to-write-good canon, I think I'd like her to do it over, not as a replacement, more as a corollary. Keep the title and most of the content; change the subtitle to "A PRACTICAL Guide for NEW Writers Aspiring to Make a Living in a Dysfunctional Industry". Ms. Prose has been at this game for so long and been successful for nearly as long that she has forgotten what it's like to be an FNG (effing new guy) to professional writing. She certainly hasn't experienced anything like being unknown and unpublished in the last 10 years where the barriers to entry have become even more entrenched than they ever were before.

So what to put in the new improved version? Besides an index, start with losing the references that were written before, say, 1960. It's obvious Ms. Prose loves the classics. So do I. Those writers were giants in their day. But it would be career suicide to try to write like them today, especially the overfed prose of the British writers. Today's writers have XBox, reality shows, and cellphone-texting standing by ready to steal the reader with the flick of a switch. Today's writers need to grab the reader quickly and not let go. That can't be done with 181-word sentences. This is the age of the short attention span. It is no accident that Harold Bloom has little regard for J.K. Rowling. Neither is it an accident that all the world is reading Rowling's work.

How to account for this phenomenon? Though Ms. Prose and I are nearly the same age, she has spent her life in literature while I spent mine first as an Army officer and later as an engineer. I've only been at this reading/writing game for about five years. Before you scoff, engineering and writing are more alike than they are different.
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6 Comments 51 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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