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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 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  5,956 ratings  ·  862 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 and 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—t ...more
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Published April 10th 2007 by HarperAudio (first published August 22nd 2006)
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Steve Sckenda
Aug 09, 2014 Steve Sckenda rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
Laura
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
Madeline
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
Zach
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
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
Conrad
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 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
Mandapants
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.
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
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
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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
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David
Dec 14, 2014 David rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Julie
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
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
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
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
Demetria
Jan 21, 2008 Demetria rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Stacy
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
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
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
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
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
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
John Hanson
Mar 01, 2015 John Hanson rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Serious readers and writers
This is not a light read. You cannot read this book in a day or two and hope to get anything out of it. Get pen, paper, wine or bourbon, a solid desk, a quiet room, and lots of time. This is a series of reading/writing workshops. If you want anything out of this book, you need to work it. Take your complaints about rambling and tone and style and stick them in your ear. If you are serious about literature, work through this book.

I wanted checklists and summaries. You know the drill. I wanted all
...more
Franky
I mainly picked this book to get a preview into the world of writing. It always amazes me hearing how an author works through this process. Hearing about how authors create, taking an idea and molding and crafting it into a meaningful and substantial work can be a powerful experience. I had a hard time deciding between three or four stars (because I did have some problems with the book), but I chose four because I took the author’s digressions and personal anecdotes into her own experiences as p ...more
Douglas
Mar 01, 2008 Douglas rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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.
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Writers Who Do Not Read 53 996 Nov 14, 2014 01:53PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Many versions of the book! Plz combine them into one 3 29 Jun 27, 2013 06:33PM  
  • 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel
  • Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft
  • The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers
  • The Forest for the Trees
  • From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction
  • The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life
  • Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer
  • How Fiction Works
  • The Modern Library Writer's Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction
  • Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies
  • The Writer's Idea Book
  • How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One
  • Fiction Writer's Workshop
  • How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them--A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide
  • Take Joy: A Writer's Guide to Loving the Craft
  • It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences: A Writer's Guide to Crafting Killer Sentences
  • The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself
  • Making Shapely Fiction
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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
...more
More about Francine Prose...
Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 Blue Angel Goldengrove Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife After

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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.” 21 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.” 18 likes
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