I am lucky enough to be a part of a book group for writers and occasionally we choose a book on craft to read alongside whatever novels we are reading. This is how I came to read Francine Prose’s Reading Like A Writer s
Prose’s essential premise is that creative writing is best taught through the close reading of literature. She writes, “It’s like watching someone dance and then secretly, in your own room, trying out a few steps” (9). She endeavors to show what we ought to be looking for and how we should respond to what we see. She achieves her goal by breaking the what down by chapter topic (words, sentences, paragraphs, narration, character, dialogue, details, gesture) and showing her own close readings of text within each chapter.ome months ago.
Prose urges us to “slow down and read every word” (15). She explains that, “Every page was once a blank page, just as every word that appears on it now was not always there, but instead reflects the final result of countless large and small deliberations” (16).
Prose advises us to read with a particular kind of care and to read classic literature–works that have or will endure. She asserts this advice from the start and proceeds to show just how one might go about reading this way.
This showing of her thinking about particular books makes her book a worthy read. The backbone of Reading Like A Writer is her commentary on style in work after work after work. You might be tempted to skip this part, particularly if you haven’t read the work that contains the scene or sentence she is commenting on. I urge you not to do that. I u
rge you to treat her book with the same care she would have you read Babel or Bowen. She provides model after model of how to look and think as a writer observing the dance of another in order to dance with her own style and rhythm in a way that might move an audience to tears or laughter or insight.
Not only doesProse posit that critical reading is the only way to learn to learn creative writing, but she also suggests that it is the only way to rise about the supposed rules of writing to find a style of our own: “If the culture sets up a series of rules that the writer is instructed to observe, reading will show you how these rules have been ignored in the past, and the happy outcome. So let me repeat, once more: literature not only breaks the rules, but makes us realize that there are none.” Her implication: A writer who does not read with a discerning eye could never write above average.
I’ll admit that in my case Prose was preaching to the choir. I have not read without a pen in my hand since I was in elementary school. Whether I am making comments in the margins or copying lines that I like into my journal, reading has for a long while been both a personal experience and an analysis of style. Even so, this book kept my interest and took me through an experience in reading that I learned from, even admired. She notices more than I do and so gave me something to strive for.