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Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (P.S.) Reprint Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 204 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0060777050
ISBN-10: 9780060777050
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Savard has a pleasant voice, a good vocal range and the important ability to emphasize for clarity and drama. She's especially good at the long and very varied quotes Prose has selected to illustrate the elements of close reading, i.e., paying careful attention to words, sentences, paragraphs, narration, character, dialogue, details and gesture (her chapter headings). Prose has taught writing classes for more than 20 years and published 14 books. To be a good writer—or a good reader—she argues, you must develop the ability to focus on language and explore line by line how the best writers use each element of language to create unique and powerful people and stories. She pulls out words and phrases from various authors to show us, for example, precisely how Flannery O'Connor creates the literary equivalent of a fireworks display while Alice Munro writes with the simplicity and beauty of a Shaker box. This is a an excellent listen that belongs in any reader's or writer's library next to Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Life is precious, and much of that preciousness lies in the details: the sights, the sounds, the scents we too often ignore in our busy lives. Prose makes a superb application of that concept for readers of fiction. To know how the great writers create their magic, one needs to engage in a close reading of the masters, for that is precisely what successful writers have done for thousands of years. College programs in creative writing and summer workshops serve a purpose, but they can never replace a careful reading of the likes of Austen, Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Kafka, Salinger, Tolstoy, and Woolf. In this excellent guide, Prose explains exactly what she means by close reading, drawing attention to the brick and mortar of outstanding narratives: words, sentences, paragraphs, character, dialogue, details, and more. In the process, she does no less than escort readers to a heightened level of appreciation of great literature. Many will want to go to the shelves to read again, or for the first time, the books she discusses. And to aid them, she thoughtfully adds a list at the end: Books to Be Read Immediately.–Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 273 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780060777050
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060777050
  • ASIN: 0060777052
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 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: #7,480 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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