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

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  10,479 ratings  ·  1,419 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, 297 pages
Published April 10th 2007 by Harper Perennial (first published August 22nd 2006)
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Ana Paula Bassi Yes. If you wanna write, or read better and see more in what you're reading, that's your book. …moreYes. If you wanna write, or read better and see more in what you're reading, that's your book. (less)
Leiana Day All classics. Or just about all of them. But if you're interested in her opinions on books (it's really more about her opinions on these books, not wr…moreAll classics. Or just about all of them. But if you're interested in her opinions on books (it's really more about her opinions on these books, not writing advice for you to use), she does a decent job of filling in background info on the books if/when it's needed. (less)

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Jun 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Justin Tate
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
My highlighter ran dry as I eagerly noted large swaths of wisdom and great lines from the many excerpts. It's not so much a guide to writing as it is guide to writer mindset. At the very least, it's a celebration of books and the art that goes into creating them. Fair warning, your to-read list (and Amazon cart) will overflow after only a few chapters.

With that being said, there are plenty of dull moments. Easily 50% of the book is wasted on setting up context for an excerpt that may be hit-or-m
Aug 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Feb 14, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Jun 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
“You will do yourself a disservice if you confine your reading to the rising star whose six-figure, two-book contract might seem to indicate where your own work should be heading. I’m not saying you shouldn’t read such writers, some of whom are excellent and deserving of celebrity. I’m only pointing out that they represent the dot at the end of the long, glorious, complex sentence in which literature has been written.”

That’s a piece of advice for would-be or budding writers, but it’s just as v
Oct 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: assigned-reading
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
Lewis Weinstein
Jul 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
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
L.S. Popovich
Aug 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 3-star, nonfiction
This was required reading for one of my Creative Writing classes in college. While I was reading I kept thinking I'd rather be reading short stories. Francine Prose is right about one thing, you learn the most from reading the classics, or the masters. Her list of suggested reading in the back led me to many youthful discoveries. She was so enthused about Chekhov that I ended up following her advice and reading the 13 volumes of his stories translated by Constance Garnett. In those volumes, almo ...more
Oct 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Oh, these nuggets of wisdom from popular producing writers. First, it was King and his wackiness (only 2 drafts per novel? HOLY S***!), & sincere cheers (he wants you to succeed). Then JCO, even MORE PROLIFIC (if that can be fathomable) than King, telling you to WRITE YOUR HEART OUT (and basically to keep on keeping on--a writer always starts off as a reader, undoubtedly). Finally, Prose gives us an exhaustive delve into the greats themselves: 100 Years of Solitude, (gasp!) Revolutionary Road, P ...more
Jul 09, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Oct 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
May 18, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Oct 27, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Jason Koivu
Sep 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
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
Aug 31, 2017 rated it it was ok
As a reader who would like to think herself a writer, I was hoping Reading Like a Writer would serve as a "how to" book on picking apart the books I read and the books I enjoy and the books I do not in order to better develop my own meager talents at writing.

Except this book is not quite that. It is rather an ode to High Literature, to Style and Gesture and Character. It does not stoop to "Low Brow Books" like fantasy, science fiction, romance. It seems to suggest that the only way to improve y
Will Byrnes
Oct 05, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Jun 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Nina Arce
This may very well be the most horridly pretentious writing book I've ever seen. The only thing stopping me from throwing it across the room in sheer despair was that I bought the audiobook version - and there was enough pain involved in actually listening that it would have been almost vulgar to add that of broken glass.

Seriously, though: ugh. There are some good points in this, certainly, but they're drowning in the haughtiest filler possible. My main problem is not the highly literary angle p
Dec 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 19, 2016 rated it liked it
I finished the book today. I do not consider it essential reading but Prose's passion for literature, hums on every page. The book may be geared more to budding writers, than to readers. That said, serious readers will learn an important lesson: Slow down and savor. She calls it "close reading" and I have been guilty of this infraction, called: Fast Reading. I think I will attempt to read more "classic" works in print, than listening to them on audio, or at least for the debut voyage. ...more
Marcus Hobson
Jun 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is more than a month since I finished this book, but it is hard to do justice to in a review, since all of it is so very good. It is a book to read multiple times and then chase all the references to other books contained within and read those too.

This is a wonderful book – there are so many examples, so many passages to read, all of which draw you into another new story and leave you wanting to read them all.

The only downside of having a book so very rich in detail is that you are left not k
Oct 09, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Aug 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: all
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
Jan 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Abigail Bok
May 05, 2021 rated it liked it
The word that kept echoing in my mind as I read this book was neurotic. The author’s analytical method appears to be to post up one of the well-known rules for writing fiction and then show how it doesn’t apply. Show, don’t tell? Here are some exceptions. Make a character likable? Here are some great books full of hateful people we can’t turn away from.

Maybe it’s that I crave certainties, always have. I like complexity too, well enough, but this book felt like grasping Jell-o. The author is a sh
In the last couple of years I've gotten in the habit of devouring books. This is great for certain books, but disastrous for classics and literary fiction.

So I was glad to find this book as it encourages taking your time and enjoying the ride.

Chapters: Close Reading, Words, Sentences, Paragraphs, Narration, Character, Dialogue, Details, Gesture, Learning from Chekhov, Reading for Courage and Books to Be Read Immediately.
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Recommendations for reading like a writer 2 4 Feb 26, 2021 08:04PM  
Writers Who Do Not Read 53 1637 Jul 31, 2020 09:43AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Many versions of the book! Plz combine them into one 3 31 Jun 27, 2013 06:33PM  

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Francine Prose is the author of twenty works of fiction. Her novel A Changed Man won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent works of nonfiction include the highly acclaimed Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including ...more

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