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Reading Like a Writer

(5/5) I highly recommend this book to anyone who aspires to improve their writing. Reading like a writer teaches one to have a critical eye when approaching literary works. To become a better writer, one must learn by doing, but one must also learn by example. The author, Francine Prose, says why not pick the best examples and learn what to do, rather than what not to do. Have these good examples close at hand while you write so that you might refer to them often. But remember, one cannot simply read countless books without assessing them with a critical eye, and that is exactly what Prose teaches one to do in Reading Like a Writer.

Francine Prose moves chapter by chapter through various topics presenting examples throughout each chapter that show you how to assess the writing of others. She begins simply with the idea of close reading, words, and sentences. From there, she builds into more complicated topics: paragraphs, characters, dialogue, details, etc. Early on she makes a statement (which was made by a close friend of hers) that has stuck with me: “putting every word on trial for its life.” She is referring to something that is done during the editing process. When I read that, a light bulb went off in my mind. It really changed the way I edit my own work. Now I know that every single word must mean something, must fight for its right to be present in my writing.

Reading Francine Prose’s book made me feel like I was sitting in a literature course back in college. I only took a few lit courses (because I was a physics major). I enjoyed her book much more than I did those courses. I felt like I learned a great deal from her in each chapter. The book is packed with examples, and so much information, that I am certainly going to have to go back and read some chapters again, such as the chapters on dialogue and characters.

One of the things that has excited me the most is, Francine Prose put a list at the end of her book titled “books to be read immediately.” There are some 80 works of literature on the list, most of which I have never heard of. I wrote out the list for myself and I intend to read through every single book. It will take a few years, but I’m excited that she left me a good starting point. And now that I know how to better read like a writer, with a critical eye for word usage, sentence formation, paragraph formation, detail, character building, dialogue, gestures, etc. I am certain that I will get a great deal from these books, and I am confident that my writing quality will improve.