Thirteen Ways Of Looking At The Novel
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Thirteen Ways Of Looking At The Novel

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  637 ratings  ·  122 reviews
This volume discusses the pleasure of reading, and why a novel succeeds or doesn't. The author delves into the character of the novelist, and reveals how novels have affected her own life. She describes the process of novel-writing, sharing the secrets of her own habits and theories of creativity.
Published April 1st 2006 by Faber & Faber (first published September 13th 2005)
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So many books .... so little time. Last year I read over a hundred books, yet I still feel I barely scratched the surface. There’s always the sense of falling further behind. One can certainly understand the appeal of Pierre Bayard’s “How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read”, if only as an aid to help keep your head above water, to help navigate the tsunami of new material which bombards us monthly.

But that’s not what this review is about. Jane Smiley’s “Thirteen ways of Looking at the Novel” w...more
If Jane Smiley's brain was a car it wouldn't be a car it would be a chunky powerful red tractor forever heaving things out of deep ditches and making a hell of a loud noise whilst doing so. Every time I read some of this big book it's like she's four inches from my face yelling things. But quite a lot of what she's yelling is really good. Frinstance -

"unfortunately for the highly ideological novelist, ideas change - the first things to die in any novel are those precious social theories that the...more
Books about books can be interesting or deadly dull, and books with one author's arbitrary list of "100 books I think you should read" can likewise be great when they convince you to add a few to your TBR shelf, or annoying when you find yourself saying "Come on — a list full of obscure 19th century novels most people have never heard of, but no love at all for genre fiction?" I found myself doing both while reading 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel. Jane Smiley talks about novels with enthusiasm...more
Lauren Prye
Jane Smiley talks about the novel: form, structure, history, analysis, a case study of her own novel, the thought process behind writing a novel...

...and more!

Okay, here goes nothing. I don't know why, exactly, I picked it up in the first place, because reading this book is not a project to be taken lightly. I just loo-ove taking on books way out of my league. This one will not be the last.

But how could I resist? I was hooked from the first few chapters. This book is as thick as The Historian or...more
I originally picked this book up at the library because I had fallen in love with How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster; that book changed the way I read, and it made me want to read more on the artistry behind reading and writing. The text started off at a crawl, the reader has to want to read this and plug through the dense language to get at the important message and value of this book. This is not dissimiliar to Smiley's works of fiction, as they generally start off slo...more
Glen Engel-Cox
One of the ways to consider this unusual book by Pulitzer-prize winning author Smiley is as an instruction book. I purchased this because it came up as a featured selection of the Writer's Digest Book Club, and its as good a book regarding the process of writing a novel as any I've read, and better than most. Smiley points out that, unlike many other artistic endeavors, the novel is one that doesn't require much equipment (paper and a pen/pencil). What it takes, more than anything is motivatioon...more
Feb 19, 2008 Jessica rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: novel-readers; wannabe novel-writers
Recommended to Jessica by: david; ginnie
Shelves: wish-i-owned
I wish Jane Smiley were on Bookface so that she could be my Bookster. I guess that isn't really necessary, though, thanks to this!

I really, really enjoyed 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel. I think it's great for someone who, like me, enjoys reading novels but doesn't think much about what they are or why she likes them, who'd appreciate some framework for thinking about them that isn't based at all in literary criticism or theory. Smiley isn't writing as an academic or a critic, but as a reader a...more
This is a filet mignon of a book: meaty, delicious, and satisfying. I've enjoyed most of Smiley's fiction (except "Greenlanders" - WTF?), and this non-fiction work shows me exactly why that is. She discusses her own work, but also undertook to read 100 novels when she was having a bout of writer's block. That project resulted in this book. In the first half, she discusses various aspects of the novel, in general. She also gives a couple of chapters worth of writing tips. The last half of the boo...more
Dusty Myers
I thought this book would be light and breezy, probably because of ill-informed notions I had of Smiley as a writer (I guess I placed her near Anne Tyler in some kind of continuum), and because of the folksy title. The conceit behind the book is that shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, Smiley found herself not just stuck/bored with the novel she'd been writing, but also unsure about the importance of The Novel in general. So she set the book aside and read 100 novels over the next three years. The not...more
Parts of this very wonderful book got two stars and parts got five stars, thus my three-star rating. It's not an exact science.

This is a big, keep-on-the shelf reference for would-be novelists. Lots of really important tips for authors, very practical stuff. Like David noted on his Goodreads review, there are quite a few novelists who should really study this before they write again.

My expectations for this chunky, pithy, reference was that it would be a book for readers. Really it is a book for...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Critical opinion varies greatly on the discourse offered by this Pulitzer Prize winner on the biography and art of the novel. While some critics applaud her convictions on what makes a novel and a novelist, others feel she needs to exit the classroom and enter the minds of the mainstream reader. As the author of 11 novels who turned her attention to devouring books when she lost inspiration while writing Good Faith (**** July/Aug 2003) during 9/11, she has certainly done her homework. Perhaps th

How funny, I haven't added this book. I've been reading it for like three years now. It's terrific. Smiley's take on the 100 novels she reads don't always agree with mine, but they often do - and they're always clear-eyed, unsentimental and very smart. It's pretty fun to finish a classic, think "Man, I kinda didn't like that," flip to this thing and find Smiley just savaging it.

She calls To Kill a Mockingbird "The Uncle Tom's Cabin of the 20th century." Finally, someone agrees with me!

There's n...more
Jennifer Louden
Certainly took me long enough to read because I fell asleep during the early sections - smart and insightful yes but also academic and I'm not sure why. But when I finally got to the three sections about novel writing - hitting the writing mother lode. As good as Ron Carlson Writes a Story, maybe better. So many gems that gave me hope and most valuable at all, deep insight into the creative process by a very smart and accomplished and brave writer.
Amy Wilder
Nov 23, 2009 Amy Wilder is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
This is a little daunting because I feel reading it like a stupid ninth grader who has never taken an English class not a graduate of a good college who took 400-level English courses. On the other hand I feel like when/if I finish it I will be able to TEACH a 400-level English class - or at least ninth grade English. I think that it's interesting that my teachers and professors never stopped to talk for long about what a novel is - I mean they went over the origins of the novel - damn, I think...more
I think I may have to buy this book.

I didn't *love* it, but it's an academic book, and dense, and there's a lot I want to review.

However long it's been on my "currently reading" list, it didn't actually take me 7 months to read. But the library kept taking it back, and it wasn't something meant to read in one sitting.

Smiley is insightful and intelligently articulates what she thinks the novel is, which I must admit I don't fully agree with. Nevertheless, she argues well for her position, and th...more
Melinda Jane Harrison
May 09, 2014 Melinda Jane Harrison rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all writers and readers of novels
Recommended to Melinda Jane by: My sister
REREAD. Had some issues with novel again. This book really helps me make decisions that otherwise I might not be able to make for weeks and weeks. Clarity on what the novel is, what it does, great examples when talking about 100 other novels. I love it. Highly Recommended.

I've had some issue with my own writing lately and to work out some problems in my mind, I stopped and read this book, which has been so helpful to me. Jane Smiley is a genius! For one she wrote this book for herself when she g...more
If only I could put together something this bright, insightful, and inspiring when I have writer's block! Published in 2005, this book was borne from dual frustrations - Smiley's inability to finish her new novel and the then recent attacks on the World Trade Center. As an antidote, she decides to read 100 novels from The Tale of Genji to Atonement (though, she notes, not read chronologically) and remind herself what the novel is capable of. This book is the fruit of those labors.

The first twel...more
Nov 19, 2008 Nick marked it as never-finished  ·  review of another edition
Smiley's prose is well-crafted but dull and meandering. There are neither bold claims nor humor. She has some good insights, but they seem to lie at the bottom of a sty: they might well be worth reading but do you really want to dig through the mud and dung to get there? The best part of the book is her analysis of the 100 novels--there she is pithy and her choice of novels is quite fascinating.

I thought it funny that she didn't admire "The Unberable Lightness of Being." Perhaps she is right th...more
Judith Shadford
Was it useful? Of course. Was it pedantic? Well, it's written by a professor. Some of the craft material was excellent. And interesting. And challenging. Some of it was mind-glazingly contrived--the intersecting circles of epic, romantic, narrative, etc., etc. And the survey of 100 books that took up the second half of the book...well, if I hadn't read John Updike's compendium of reviews, maybe I wouldn't be so critical. He was marvelous, witty, revelatory. Ms. Smiley, for starters, seemed unabl...more
In the midst of writer's block, Jane Smiley decides to read 100 novels, and explore just what a novel is. Some of the chapters in this book ("What Is a Novel?", "Who Is a Novelist?", "The Psychology of the Novel," "The Circle of the Novel" & "A Novel of Your Own(I) & (II)" are really interesting, and helpful for aspiring (and, I'd guess, established) novelists. Others ("Morality and the Novel," "The Art of the Novel") get academic, dry and hard to follow. Smiley is not afraid of making b...more
If I could, I'd give this book both a five and a one. Some of this book is gut-wrenching and life -affirming (if your life happens to revolve, in any way, around novels. Mine does.) She has a whole section about how reading novels teaches empathy, and I love that. But her summaries of the 100 novels she read, well, they kind of piss me off sometimes. Lolita is mediocre? I dunno, Jane.
I'm reading this book just by opening and reading a paragraph or two... so much inspiration and insight doing it that way. Tried reading it in a linear way but didn't like that as much. This way, I read until I feel inspired and then go to work. I'm more interested in being inspired than informed.
Christine Nolfi
A must-read for the serious novelist.
A Review of Jane Smiley’s 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel

13 Ways is three books in one. The first nine chapters offer a unique discussion of the the novel form referencing novels from “The Tale of Genji” (written in 11th century Japan) to the end of the 20th century. Part two contains three chapters targeted to would-be novelists and the third part of the book consists of short reviews of 101 novels.

I highly recommend parts 1 and 3 to students of the novel and to novelists of the would-be and al...more
Larry Bassett
I was not optimistic about Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel after I got it on GR Bookswap. The second half is about 100 books that the author thinks will “illuminate the whole concept of the novel.” I have read one of them (To Kill a Mockingbird) and heard of only about one-third more. Probably more than George W. Bush but still embarrassing for a college english major. Smiley takes Bush (who said his favorite book is The Very Hungry Caterpillar) to task in the chapter on history. She got p...more
Ann Spivack
Disappointing. I want to read other reviews and maybe approach this book with a different perspective but some of the writing here seems purposely off-putting. Here's an example: "Paradoxically, given that novels are always referred to as 'fiction,' the fictive nature of the novel is its most contingent quality."
This doesn't compel me to keep reading.
Smiley wrote this book after 9/11 and after the really horrible novel "Good Faith." I disliked "Good Faith" intensely -- almost as passionately a...more
Gerald Camp
Oct 20, 2011 Gerald Camp rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who love reading novels
Okay, I'm cheating. I finished everything except Smiley's reviews of her 100 novels (which is half the book!). But Smiley tells me how to finish the book. She suggests that her reader should dip into the last half--read it in no particular order, to get suggestions for novels he may want to read. Since I have read many of the novels she read, I will read what she has to say about the novels I know, and I will read her reviews of other novels I wish to read. So I probably will never finish this b...more
Jane Turner
The goal of a good novel is to understand a character more completely than the reader understands herself, according to Jane Smiley. To do so, abundance is the key, and in her book 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, Smiley provides an abundance of ideas far beyond her numeric 13.

When writing your novel, Smiley insists your characters possess an abundance of talent, misfortune, and feral nature, and you must pepper everything with insight and paradoxes. A story about war is really about peace, and...more
Everyone acknowledges that true stories can never be fully known--too many details lack corroboration, too many witnesses disagree about what really happened. Every true story is unsatisfying insofar as it is required to be true. But since the novel is required to be complete (its ddispensation from truthfulness), its acknowledged untruthfulness removes it from the world of consequences. The raeder suspending disbelief expects a novel to take lace in a designated game area (inside a book) under...more
For a book that is at times obsessed with classification, it does not easily fit into a single genre. It contains a hefty dose of literary criticism, although said criticism, in the first section of the book at least, is usually in the form of analysis of the novel form in general and not of any work of fiction in particular, and so at times the book is more like a textbook than anything else. 13 Ways is also heavily autobiographical--Smiley devotes the book's entire first chapter to an account...more
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Jane Smiley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Smiley grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, and graduated from John Burroughs School. She obtained a A.B. at Vassar College, then earned a M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. While working towards her doctorate, she also spent a year studying in Iceland as a Fulbright Scholar...more
More about Jane Smiley...
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“Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.” 5392 likes
“A novelist has two lives-- a reading and writing life, and a lived life. he or she cannot be understood at all apart from this.” 14 likes
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