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

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  4,777 ratings  ·  739 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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Steve Sckenda
Oct 04, 2013 Steve Sckenda rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Those Who Want to Learn Close Reading
Slow down. If you want to read like a writer, slow down. With so much reading ahead of you, the temptation might be to speed up, but it’s essential to slow down and to read every word whenever reading serious literature. This is the the theme of “Reading Like a Writer.” Serious writers put every word on trial before committing to them, and serious readers need to pay close attention to those words. Francine Prose attempts to teach the technique of “close reading.” This may be obvious to some, bu...more
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Jul 09, 2007 shannon rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
Nov 11, 2008 Robert rated it 5 of 5 stars 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
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
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
Jason Koivu
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
Jan 21, 2008 John rated it 4 of 5 stars 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
[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
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
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
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
Jan 21, 2008 Demetria rated it 5 of 5 stars 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
Mar 01, 2008 Douglas rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: anyone who wants to write a great book
Recommended to Douglas by: Debra Hamel
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
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
In this excellent antidote to the current MFA jargon, Ms. Prose (I know, it seems like a hokey pseudonym, but is apparently not) shows readers how to read reflectively, paying closer attention to words, sentences, and paragraphs. She uses numerous examples to demonstrate that the "rules" of writing creative fiction are not, in fact, rules at all; the most creative and interesting writers pay no attention to them .

The best part(s) of the book are the many samples from widely different writers, e...more
"Reading Like a Writer" is an excellent overview of what is sometimes called "deep reading": examining word choices, sentence structure, paragraphs, character development, gesture, etc., at the minute level.

Author Francine Prose includes numerous examples to demonstrate her positions (more of them from Russian novels, which are not to my taste, than I might have chosen ... but to each his own). She explains why understanding the matters listed above is crucial to an author making his or her own...more
I appreciated that Francine Prose let great writing speak for itself. Probably more than half this book consists of examples, and I agree with Prose that the best way to teach readers how to recognize a great sentence or paragraph is to just keep showing us what they look like. However, as a writer, I feel I am constantly bombarded with other, more successful writers telling me "This is what a writer is, this is how a writer should think" or "If you didn't read such and such book by the time you...more
Very useful, whether you want to be a writer or not. Learning how to appreciate good writing is a skill and can be useful even when simply telling a story to a friend across a table while enjoying a cup of coffee. If nothing else, it will open readers' eyes to the differences between quality literature and twaddle. For more:
My New Year's resolution was to get serious about my writing, so I thought I'd start light with this NY Times's Notable Book of the Year by Francine Prose. It is based on the idea that Ms. Prose loves books so much that it led to her eventually become a writer. I looked forward to having a new way to read books, especially the classics (some of which I did not appreciate as much as I was told to), as well as another tool with which to improve my writing.

I am 3/4 of the way through the book, and...more
T. Edmund
Francine Prose (I'm sure authors would pick a less obvious num de plum) promises a guide for people who want to write books. Most of the reading guide is in the first section - and isn't exactly the most original advice: to dissect and analyse each word.

The rest of the book is more a mix of literary analysis, advice, and Prose's personal response to her classics. Not that this is uninteresting or bad, just not exactly what is described in the title.

In regards to her advice Prose is focussed on l...more
Karolyn Sherwood
Imagine reading for decades only to learn that you've been missing the point your entire life!

Francine Prose, author and teacher, likes to say that she reads "sentence by sentence." She reads for the beauty each sense imparts. She also worships the work of Anton Checkov.

Oops. That's not exactly how I've been reading all my life. I've never read Checkov (although I did just order a book of his 100 best stories because of her.) I generally read for plot and action, quickly, so that I can get to th...more
Dec 22, 2008 Val marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Readers, Aspiring Writers
Recommended to Val by: NPR
Shelves: nonfiction
This is an AMAZING book. This book has been far more useful than every moment I spent in the MISERABLE creative writing class at the local community college (the psychotic professor condemned us all to reading only living authors, and to reading WAY too many short-stories by ONLY living writers). Time is a great winnowing process -- over time, bad books fall out of circulation and print. There were hundreds of HORRENDOUS books written in the 19th c., but what survives are the best. Just because...more
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Writers Who Do Not Read 30 548 Sep 12, 2013 04:25PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Many versions of the book! Plz combine them into one 3 27 Jun 27, 2013 06:33PM  
  • Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft
  • The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers
  • 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel
  • From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction
  • The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life
  • Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer
  • Fiction Writer's Workshop
  • Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints
  • Making Shapely Fiction
  • The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller
  • The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile
  • Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies
  • Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew
  • The Forest for the Trees
  • The Writer's Idea Book
  • Becoming a Writer
  • Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go
  • The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself
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.

More about Francine Prose...
Blue Angel Goldengrove After Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife My New American Life

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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.” 18 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.” 12 likes
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