The Book’s Basics
Title: Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them
Author: Francine Prose
Genre: Non-Fiction; Books on Writing
Length: 289 pages
Initial Reaction: Informative, essentially a how-to of close reading.
This book has a lot of information on how to do a close reading of a story.
It focuses on different sections. For example, Chapter Two is about “Words”, Chapter Three is on “Sentences” and Chapter Four is on “Paragraphs.” I like how it builds outward from the smallest building blocks of story to larger ones.
It also focuses on other topics like character and gesture, so has an excellent overview of topics. A good chunk of the book is filled with examples, so if you’re only reading for the basic information and the analysis you can do (although the analysis will make more sense if the examples are read).
Who would I recommend this book to?
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in leaning about how to do a close reading of a book. I have a degree in English Lit, so was already familiar, but still found it an interesting enough read. If you’re about to pursue an English Lit degree, I would recommend reading this before or during, as it has good information that can help prepare a prospective student.
For writers, at whatever stage of writing they’re at, I believe it is beneficial to study craft. There are different ways to do this. Studying formally at a university or college is an option. Or going to workshops or reading craft books are other options.
Regardless of any of those, reading is one of the best ways to learn how to write. And Reading Like a Writer gives a lot of helpful advice on what to look for while reading.
Francine Prose gives a lot of examples to show what she means, but a lot of them are from classic books. This doesn’t diminish what she is saying and a lot can be learned from those examples, but it does have to be taken with a grain of salt.
That’s why reading in the genre that you write in is beneficial: you can see what other people are doing, how they craft their work, how they construct their worlds and breathe life into their characters. In my book recommendations, I have a section titled “Writer Craft Notes,” in which I try to be aware of what they’ve done and what I think has worked and what hasn’t – and why.
Reading Like a Writer gives the tools of how to recognise what to look for when reading.
Writer Craft Notes
I am an unpublished writer, but I would like to be published some day, so when I read a book I am trying to be more aware of the author’s craft and what I can learn from them.
Writing develops over time, so it is good to read contemporary stories to have an understanding of themes, tropes, etc. There is also a lot of influence to be had from stories that have already been written. This is evident in blurbs where it says: “[story/author] meets [story/author.”
Being able to read into these from a word-by-word level to a story level – micro to macro – is helpful to any author. This book is a good starting point, especially with explaining how to read other works to learn how to write. You can apply these techniques to all stories as she focuses on the building blocks of stories.
I’m not particularly interested in the stories that she dove into in the book, but I can apply these techniques to books that I choose to read in genres that I prefer. Prose gives enough examples to get the point across, but not be overwhelming.
I think it’s good to read a variety of stories to learn how to write, including craft books. This is the first craft book that I’ve come across that starts at the beginning of a writer’s journey – being a reader. Then she gives information on what to look for on different levels of the story so we know what to look for to improve.
And improvement is what I’m working toward.