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

3.76  ·  Rating Details  ·  6,773 Ratings  ·  942 Reviews
In her entertaining and edifying New York Times bestseller, acclaimed author Francine Prose invites you to sit by her side and take a guided tour of the tools and the tricks of the masters to discover why their work has endured. Written with passion, humor, and wisdom, Reading Like a Writer will inspire readers to return to literature with a fresh eye and an eager heart - ...more
Paperback, 273 pages
Published April 10th 2007 by Harper Perennial (first published August 22nd 2006)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Laura
Sep 07, 2008 Laura rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
According to Francine Prose, creative writing cannot, in fact, be taught, but would-be writers can learn by studying the masters -- among others, Bruce Wagner, Jonathan Franzen, Alice Munro, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Scott Spencer. Prose is a proponent of New Criticism -- the philosophy that works can be understood only by reading of the work as an entity unto itself, and not by reference to external indicia, like the author's life or political beliefs. In keeping with that philosophy, Prose sele ...more
Zach
Feb 14, 2011 Zach rated it it was ok
From the very beginning this book irritated me. I found myself stopping at intervals to try and figure out why that was. Unfortunately, I couldn't come up with a definitive answer. I think, simply, that I don't like Prose's personality. That sounds harsher than I mean it. Put a (slightly) nicer way, she's not the kind of person I would ever want to talk about books with. There is a degree of condescention and snobbery in her tone. She is a literary elitist, and I'm opposed to that.

I also felt de
...more
Madeline
Oct 04, 2009 Madeline rated it it was amazing
Shelves: assigned-reading
First, let me get this out of the way: Francine Prose is the absolute best name for an author, ever. Some people get all the luck.

Okay, on to the actual book. Prose basically starts by saying, I'm a creative writing teacher and I kind of dislike creative writing workshops. She then spends each chapter going over a specific element of style used in novels - in case you were wondering, the chapter titles go like this: Close Reading, Words, Sentences, Paragraphs, Narration, Character, Dialogue, De
...more
Lewis Weinstein
Feb 26, 2013 Lewis Weinstein rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
Reading Like a Writer has certainly made me a better reader, and perhaps a better writer. I was worried that "reading like a writer" would make reading more of a chore and less enjoyable. Not so. For me, it enhances my reading pleasure to stop every once in a while and consider what the writer is doing, and why, and how well. This approach is very helpful in editing my own writing.

I have accumulated many thoughts about writing, from Francine Prose and other sources, on my author blog. These thou
...more
Conrad
Nov 01, 2008 Conrad rated it really liked it
Overall very good. I tend to skim books a lot when I get to parts that bore me, and then I end up falling into the habit and skimming all the time. Reading this restored the pleasure and argued well for the necessity of careful, time-consuming reading (I have no idea how Francine Prose has had time to read everything she's read.)

My favorite chapters by far were the ones on dialog and sentences. Writing dialog is really tricky, and she doles out a lot of good advice.

(Once, in college, I brought a
...more
shannon
Jul 09, 2007 shannon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: bibliophiles
Shelves: loved
I've never read Francine Prose's fiction. But I wouldn't put it past her to be the most well read, articulate and accessible bibliophile currently operating. It seems she knows EVERYTHING, but she never makes me feel stupid or base in my reading choices. Instead, she is absolutely inspirational. It was all I could do not to put this book down at every page and run to the bookstore to scoop up and devour to classics that she brings to life through example, examination and pure joyful love of the ...more
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
I was eagerly awaiting the paperback edition to read this, it sounded so interesting. And it was. Is. Grr. Don't worry, it's not about grammar or punctuation. This is about reading for enjoyment and also for inspiration, motivation, guidance, example....

Divided into chapters on words, sentences, paragraphs, narration, dialogue, gestures - you get the picture - Prose (isn't that the most perfect name?!) uses analysis, anecdotes and extensive quotes to bring books and short stories to life.

The f
...more
Mandapants
Oct 27, 2008 Mandapants rated it liked it
The trouble with Prose's book is that it's good. It's annoyingly like finding oil changing advice in the New York Times crossword or having your wine snob friend demonstrate the way to lay drywall with metaphors drawn from the bouquet of their favorite shiraz.

Still, Prose brings up several excellent points. Her section on gesture is particularly good; it's easily as illuminating and Stephen King's hatred of adverbs. But I think what I will take away most from this book is her advice for when you
...more
C.J.
Sep 03, 2008 C.J. rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book and the author's focus on the finer points of writing. She references dozens of classic works and discusses word choice, sentences, paragraph structure, voice and many other fundamentals of writing fiction.

Her comments are geared to literary writers and often I felt insulted (as a lowly thriller writer). At one point she says, "Opening a mass-market thriller at random," and she quotes a horrible passage that I didn't recognize. She's telling us that mass-market thrille
...more
Jason Koivu
Oct 21, 2012 Jason Koivu rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
Made for a reader, but strong enough for a writer!

Not surprisingly Reading Like a Writer weighs a bit heavier on the writerly side rather than the reader. Francine Prose (that HAS to be a pen name) has taught writing and so that is her approach to writing this novel, which by the title sounds as if it's meant to assist the reader. Well clearly what makes good writing is the stuff readers should be aware of if they wish to get the most of their occupation, so I can forgive her that. Another reaso
...more
Julie
May 30, 2010 Julie rated it really liked it
This useful and engaging book is wisely divided into chapters of the key structures of literary fiction: Words; Sentences; Paragraphs; Narration; Character; Dialogue; Details; Gesture. In this way, an initial reading can provide a foundation, but the chapters remain as toolbox to open when a particular writing challenge presents itself.

In addition, Prose expounds upon her own particular literary Eurekas in chapters devoted to reading for inspiration and "courage," as well as an extensive list o
...more
David
Dec 14, 2014 David rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Oprah, Radcliffe grads, people who sip wine at book club discussions and don't read shit with elves
This was another one of my forays into "Books about writing written by writers," some of which have been quite interesting, a few of which have been useful, but often they turn out to be tedious.

This was one of the tedious ones.

For starters, Francine Prose (who is apparently a highly regarded novelist with many books to her name, but with apologies, I've never read anything by her nor had I even heard of her before) is very much a literary writer. Meaning, books should be Important and Literary
...more
Robert
Nov 11, 2008 Robert rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in literature, especially ficton.
Reading Like a Writer synthesizes Francine Prose's lifetime's experience in literature--as a reader, a writer, and a teacher. It's a splendid book because it is so learned, well-written, and insightful, presenting fiction (that's Prose's literary focus) in its component guises of words, sentences, paragraphs, narrative strategies, and telling details.

Francine Prose emphasizes close reading to best appreciate literary effects. She's not a member of a critical school; that never made sense to her.
...more
John
Jan 21, 2008 John rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who loves books
As a late bloomer, many high school topics, including reading and writing were wasted on me. In returning more recently to reading, and to a lesser extent writing, I have started to gain an appreciation of these arts, and in turn to mourn the loss of this early education. Perhaps these are the reasons that I cite in trying to explain why I enjoyed this book as much as I did. And as a hidden gem, what could be more appropriate than reading a book about writing crafted by an author whose name is ...more
Lunamania
Sep 15, 2007 Lunamania rated it it was amazing
Shelves: all
The NY Times Book Review has a special slot on my Sunday schedule. In this a.d.d. world, it affirms that books, and more importantly, the time consuming process of mulling over words and putting together sentences that convey thoughts clearly--the act of writing, is still valued. Book Reviews in the Times generally go on for 3 pages before even mentioning the actual book and then it gets like 2 paragraphs--with a quick reference to a third book for comparison. I'm fine with that. They're always ...more
Demetria
Jan 21, 2008 Demetria rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: writers
I'm usually not too keen on books that are allegedly for writers, but this one is really good. Francine Prose (gotta love the name) does an excellent job of utilizing literary works and her own experiences to illustrate points without being too textbooky. There are chapters on things like word choice, sentence structure and dialogue, but I swear it's interesting! There's also a pretty handy list at the end, of books that illustrate some of the points Prose makes. This book has actually made me b ...more
Thing Two
Nov 07, 2010 Thing Two rated it really liked it
William Faulkner once wrote: ""Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window."

In "How to Read Like a Writer", Francine Prose writes not a 'how to' book, but amasses a beautiful collection of passages from classic writers to illustrate her point - which is, you can't learn
...more
Amanda
Sep 08, 2015 Amanda rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, reference
A must-read for writers, students of literature, and serious readers. Simply the best guide to critical reading and writing that I have ever encountered. Prose quotes from a huge range of works, not just the expected canonical classics, and not a single word of her commentary is wasted. I'm a fast reader and this took me two weeks of attentive reading to finish. I'm so glad I did, though--having students read the first half of this book would be a better introduction to a Writing or Literature m ...more
Lazy Seagull
I picked this up in the streets of Boston where they had those tables where it's like "take a book leave a book: the honor system" so I took this one and left it some harlequin romance book my mom had sitting in her car.

I probably should've kept the harlequin romance, jesus christ.

I dunno. There wasn't anything particular that irked me, it was just an amalgamation of tiny niggling little things that built up and eventually overwhelmed me into putting the damn thing down.

Some of her points were g
...more
Jason
Sep 05, 2007 Jason rated it really liked it
Shelves: finished2007
I actually took a graduate class with Ms. Prose, and many of the points she makes in the book were made in the class. I was in one of those sessions she mentions in the book, where the majority of an hour and half is spent on the first couple pages of a story. It was a bit overwhelming, and I think her method works better in book form.

I don't think this is a book that will make you a better writer, but it is inspiring and enjoyable. In fact, the book could potentially hinder a young writer, who
...more
Leo Robertson
Mar 07, 2016 Leo Robertson rated it liked it
Between 3 and 4... I liked about a third of her examples, but other writers didn't do it for me. Still, as we suspect and as Prose bravely admits towards the end, no one knows anything, and there are no rules. And it was also nice to read an explanation of why the author thinks Chekhov is such a great writer/ teacher of writing through his stories + a few new book recommendations :)
Michael
[10/21/08: Realized I hadn't yet read the final two essays in this book, so polished 'em off. Still love this user-friendly close-reading instructional, despite its sometimes tendency to verge over into a starry-eyed gee-Mr.-Wizard tone that verges on condescension. Instructional and inspiring even if occasionally annoying.]

I've been parceling out the essays in this book, reading many books between each one, because the book is such a joy. Prose does more to explain how character, tone, what-hav
...more
Abel
Apr 07, 2016 Abel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Los ejemplos que usa la autora para ilustrar lo que va explicando son muy buenos, todos ellos de grandes autores, pero cae en un error que siempre me ha repateado: analizar esos textos a la luz de lo importantes que han terminado por ser su autores.

Así nos encontramos pasajes de este estilo:

"No escribas frases demasiado largas, a no ser que seas un genio como X.
[Inserte aquí texto genial de X]
No escribas frases demasiado cortas, a no ser que seas un genio como Y.
[Inserte aquí texto genial de
...more
Stacy
Jan 31, 2015 Stacy rated it liked it
This is another one of those books that had been on my TBR list for years and years, picked up and attempted to start numerous times only to put it down for something more exciting? appealing? interesting? Maybe all of the above. I started this time determined to make it all the way through to the end, beginning purposefully at the end of the year with hopes of using what I learned to fuel more thoughtful and conscientious reading in the coming year. I wanted it to help me better examine, apprec ...more
Will Byrnes
Oct 05, 2008 Will Byrnes rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
I was reminded of teachers of programming and tech things of that nature. What they do is offer ten to twenty minutes of lecture then go around from desk to desk answering individual questions. That appears to be Prose’s technique, which got on my nerves. I was hoping for something a bit more formulaic, in the sense of indicating what rules made sense, showing how to use this or that that tool to create such-and-such an effect. Instead, Prose says that there are rules, but here are many, many ex ...more
Ethan
May 18, 2010 Ethan rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
I knew I was in trouble when, a few pages into this book, I came upon the author's revelation that she really learned how to read when she was sudying in India and decided to read Proust in the original French.

Oh no, I thought, but I plunged further into the book and was "rewarded" by Francine "Deathless" Prose describing in breathy terms her most beloved authors and passages, most of which left me cold.

Some of her points were interesting; her chapter on paragraphing had some good examples, and
...more
Taka
Oct 09, 2011 Taka rated it liked it
Better the second time around--

Reading Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer the second time was a very different experience from reading it four years ago when I didn’t know much about the craft of writing. When I read it the first time, I didn’t find the book to be of any practical value. As a beginning writer, her assertions like “there are no general rules, only individual examples to help point you in a direction in which you might want to go,” only confused me and I didn’t know what to ta
...more
Jeanne
Jun 07, 2008 Jeanne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-come-back-to
Given my recent resolution to pay more attention while reading (see my Lovely Bones review), I thought this would be a good place to start. Unfortunately I didn't get very far. Francine Prose examines very good literature (Hemingway, Joyce, etc.), and how to read it closely to glean everything the author intended to convey.

What I came to realize very quickly is that I don't read very good literature, and in fact I don't enjoy it. My tastes are shallow. (And this is probably why I developed the h
...more
Ruth
May 10, 2015 Ruth rated it really liked it
One of the most practically useful books for writers I've read so far. I must learn to be a 'close reader', very difficult when skim reading has become habitual. There are chapters on words, paragraphs, character, gesture, dialogue, etc. My favourite chapter was about what you can learn from reading Chekov's short stories, partly because it was full of interesting personal anecdote, but also because she loves Chekov so much that I immediately wanted to track his work down and read it. If you not ...more
Kristina
Nov 27, 2015 Kristina rated it really liked it
Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer: A Guide For People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them is an insightful and thoughtful book to read about reading books. Just as the very long subtitle suggests, Prose discusses thoughtful reading, paying attention to words and their meanings and also has some helpful (and not helpful) suggestions for would be writers.

Reading Like a Writer isn’t a handbook filled with reading and/or writing exercises. Prose relates her personal experiences
...more
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Writers Who Do Not Read 57 1250 Dec 30, 2015 09:49AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Many versions of the book! Plz combine them into one 3 30 Jun 27, 2013 06:33PM  
  • 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel
  • Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft
  • Becoming a Writer
  • The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers
  • The Forest for the Trees
  • From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction
  • Fiction Writer's Workshop
  • Making Shapely Fiction
  • Page After Page: Discover the Confidence & Passion You Need to Start Writing & Keep Writing (No Matter What!)
  • The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Writing Fiction and Nonfiction
  • Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer
  • The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile
  • Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish
  • The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear
  • Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew
  • Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies
  • How to Write Killer Fiction
  • How Fiction Works
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Francine Prose (born in 1947 in Brooklyn, New York) is an American novelist. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1968, and received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1991. She has sat on the board of judges for the PEN/Newman's Own Award, and her novel Blue Angel, a satire about sexual harassment on college campuses, was a finalist for the National Book Award. She is now teaching at Bard College.

For
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“I’ve always found that the better the book I’m reading, the smarter I feel, or, at least, the more able I am to imagine that I might, someday, become smarter.” 25 likes
“With so much reading ahead of you, the temptation might be to speed up. But in fact it’s essential to slow down and read every word. Because one important thing that can be learned by reading slowly is the seemingly obvious but oddly underappreciated fact that language is the medium we use in much the same way a composer uses notes, the way a painter uses paint. I realize it may seem obvious, but it’s surprising how easily we lose sight of the fact that words are the raw material out of which literature is crafted.” 21 likes
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