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Thirteen Ways Of Looking At The Novel

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  853 Ratings  ·  150 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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Jan 12, 2008 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Violet wells
I’m afraid I found this tedious – a huge waste of time and effort both on her part for writing it and my part for reading it. James Wood manages to give more thrilling insights into the nature of the novel in one review than Smiley manages in almost six hundred pages. Virginia Woolf likewise in any one of her essays in The Common Reader. At one point Smiley devises some bizarre clock segmented into twelve categories which is supposed to offer insight into the nature of the novel. The categories ...more
Paul Bryant
Jun 09, 2011 Paul Bryant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: litcrit
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
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
مروان البلوشي
الأمريكيين يميلون لتحليل ومقاربة الأمور وكأنهم يجرون عملية جراحية في عيادة مايو كلينيك، أو يصلحون سيارة في شيكاغو أو ديترويت. المعنى هو أنهم لا يأخذون الأمور بنفس العمق (المتعب أحياناً) الذي يميل له الأوروبيون، هذا التعميم الذي يبسط الكثير من الأمور، نجد دليل له في هذا الكتاب الممتع :

"13 طريقة لفهم الرواية"
في 2001 كانت الكاتبة الأمريكية جاين سمايلي في وسط عملية كتابة أحدث رواياتها، عندما تفاجأت أن بئر الإبداع جف فجأة وأنها لا تستطيع إكمال الكتابة، قررت سمايلي أن تقوم بقراءة 100 رواية مختلفة، على
Feb 17, 2009 Heather rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library, nonfiction
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
Feb 19, 2008 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  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
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
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
Sep 09, 2016 Lauren rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read this book several times now, and my copy is quite battered. That's partly because I have a bone-deep weakness for "books about books," and if someone writes an account of their reading, I will almost certainly read it, but it's also because Smiley's analysis of the novel as a form is insightful and nuanced.

Smiley was struggling with writer's block when she decided to reboot and recharge by reading a hundred "serious" novels. (There are moments where I push back against this book, and o
Melinda Jane Harrison
May 09, 2014 Melinda Jane Harrison rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all writers and readers of novels
Recommended to Melinda Jane Harrison 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
Oct 10, 2010 Sharon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
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
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

May 29, 2014 Alex rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Not bad—

This is not a practical guide book showing how to go about writing a novel. It doesn't have "techniques" or "method," but the different kinds of rumination Smiley offers can be instructive and in some cases inspire you to re-examine your own work, as yours sincerely did. At points, I had theoretical objections to her use of "theory" in writing novels, but that's a quibble really not worth mentioning here.

If you're interested in what novels can mean and learning about different aspects of
Jennifer Louden
Dec 29, 2012 Jennifer Louden rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Emma Sea

I dislike Smiley's voice.
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
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
Jane Turner
Jun 14, 2011 Jane Turner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: awesome, how-to-write
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
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
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
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
Dec 06, 2015 Zeenat rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are two chapters in the middle about writing specifically, which are pure gold. The first half is about general writing and Smiley's own experiences as a writer and her thoughts on writing which are philosophical and critical and informed. Then the two chapters on writing divide the second half which comprises brief essays on the 100 books she read. Wonderful read!
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
Jul 26, 2015 Nora rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i really enjoyed reading this; i expanded my to-read list by a LOT. i don't think you would like this if you weren't a big big big novel reader. i appreciated the author's thoroughness, and i think i enjoyed the second half, which is a straight-up list of 100+ novels she read plus her thoughts on them, more than the essays of the first half, which draws definitions of the novel by making comparisons between them. i liked how attentive she was to the psychological/sociological underpinnings of ea ...more
Eric Lotke
The part of this book that I didn’t like was the book. Okay, it’s a chance to hang out with a brilliant amazing novelist while she free associates about life, literature and creation. I can’t say it wasn’t good, but it wasn’t good for me. I didn’t find enough sapphires in the mud. I ended up skipping pages and skimming a lot. It’s a 100,000 word New Yorker article (though a larger font might have helped).

The highlight by far was the next 100,000 words of book reviews. Professor Smiley set out t
Richard Jespers
Nov 17, 2014 Richard Jespers rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After 9/11/01 Smiley finds she cannot write fiction immediately—she must have time to absorb what has happened to her, the country. (What is more she isn’t sure she can conclude a novel she has been working on.) Instead, she selects one hundred novels to read and then comments or writes a mini-essay for each one. In addition, she discusses the novel as an art form: that there exist as many as twelve categories: the epic, the polemic, the confessional, the romance (capital R), the tale, historica ...more
Feb 19, 2014 Emma rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
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“Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.” 5991 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.” 22 likes
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