Will Byrnes's Reviews > Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
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Oct 05, 08

bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in April, 2007

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 examples of writing outside those rules. Prose keeps saying that really-talented writers “doan need no stinking rules,” without the bandolero, of course. This is what makes the book so frustrating. She clearly loves literature and can explain how a particular piece works. So that is what she does. She takes many, many examples of good writing and explains for each exactly what is right about it. I got the sense that she was using these quotes as filler, and I got really annoyed when they began to exceed reasonable paragraph length and go on for pages at a time. It feels like cheating. One thing she favors in her teaching is to read literature very, very closely, line by line, looking for the methods as well as information that is being used and communicated. There is certainly merit in this sort of analysis. And I suppose that is the strength of this book, her ability to look at the many examples offered and deconstruct them. But I felt unsatisfied by the book, no better off than before I had read it.
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