Reading Like A Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them
By Francine Prose
Hardcover, 273 pages, $23.95
Why was it okay for Gabriel Garcia Marquez to write a book-long paragraph but not okay for the average writer today? Why is there so much ‘telling’ and not ‘showing’ in classic novels when editors keep telling writers that just the opposite is the correct form? What is it about authors like Chekhov, Tolstoy, Nabokov or Woolf that either makes the average writer wince with terror or sigh with longing—and envy! Can a fledgling writer learn from these and other great masters… and still enjoy the road in the process?
Distinguished novelist, critic and essayist Francine Prose answers these questions and more in this fascinating study of how paying particular attention to the sentences and techniques of great classic authors can enrich the mind and actually improve a person’s writing style. Prose warns the novice writer against only reading works of today’s commercial, bestselling authors and advices to “slow down and read every word” in the case of classic novels. She uses an eloquent analogy to demonstrate her point: “It’s something like the way you experience a master painting, a Rembrandt or a Velazquez, by viewing it not only far away but also up close, in order to see the brushstrokes.”
Using key examples taken from various masterpieces, Prose demonstrates in separate chapters how to pay special attention to words, sentences, paragraphs, narration, character, dialogue, and details, and gesture. Which masterpieces should a writer read? A list of titles “to be read immediately” is included at the end of the book.
A sophisticated, smart, must read for writers who love language and the classics and who are serious about their own writing.
*This review originally appeared in Armchair Interviews, http://www.armchairinterviews.com