I have read this book so many times, I’ve lost count. I still remember browsing at Borders bookstore when I came across the title and the name. By now, you all know my fascination with reading lists, and this book is no different. Not only has Francine Prose thoughtfully provided a list of “Books to Read Immediately”, but there is also a book club conversation for readers who want to take a deeper dive.
What’s great about this book is that it’s not written like a textbook. It is written, almost story style, though the chapters are broken simply into “Words”, “Paragraphs”, “Narration” and so on. There’s even an entire chapter dedicated to Chekhov. And a line I’ve seen repeated, more than once, from authors, is mentioned early on. It’s a line, I have seared into my brain, and was following its directive long before I’d heard it. If you want to write well. Read.
“They studied meter with Ovid, plot construction with Homer, comedy with Aristophanes; they honed their prose style by absorbing the lucid sentences of Montaigne, and Samuel Johnson. And who could have asked for better teachers: generous, uncritical, blessed with wisdom and genius, as endlessly forgiving as only the dead can be?” – Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer
There is a caveat, however, to reading like a writer. You might dismiss new ways of doing something, because it’s not like what you know. You’ll catch plot holes and wonder why structures didn’t hold up. The critical eye you thought you had for your own writing, gets even sharper. And you won’t just do it in books. You’ll find yourself working out the details of your favorite TV mystery or action/adventure. Who did it? You’ll probably discern it.
But, the reason to read this book for the reader and the writer is to take a look at how the masters of writing crafted their tales. The words they used, the worlds they built, and the emotion pulled from the reader which leaves us wanting more.
Pages are dog-eared and notes are in the margin. And there will be many more reads before I sleep.