Bookmarks Issue: 

A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them

A-Reading Like a WriterThis collection of essays and excerpts from classic novels and short stories is designed to excite the curiosity and imagination of readers and also to provide a map through the tricky territory of writing. In eight chapters—Words, Sentences, Paragraphs, Narration, Character, Dialogue, Details, and Gesture—and two essays, Prose discusses various ways of writing prose as demonstrated by authors such as Flannery O’Connor, Jane Austen, Tim O’Brien, Virginia Woolf, and Raymond Chandler. She acknowledges that breaking rules can be as important as following them and provides a wide variety of examples. Most of all, she encourages exploring and enjoying the writer’s craft.
HarperCollins. 288 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0060777044

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4.5 of 5 Stars
"A small section of Stuart Dybek’s story ‘We Didn’t’ made me get up from the chair to find someone to read it to. … If you love books, or want to write them, you need to read this book at least once. Probably twice." Sarah Willis

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Prose makes a brave effort here to return to reading as a committed engagement with writers who labor to make language reflect the complexity of what it means to be human. For this, she will be scorned by some who believe that writing must be political and dismissed by others who don’t want to work as hard at either reading or writing as she demands." Charles E. May

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Another difficulty faced by writing teachers is, paradoxically, the lack of interest many students show in reading. And those who do read often lack the training to observe subtle writerly clues. There’s a real need, then, for Reading Like a Writer—a primer both for aspiring writers and for readers who’d like to increase their sensitivity to the elements of the writer’s craft." Emily Barton

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Reading Like a Writer is an articulation of the one truism of writing—writers have to study the greats. … And despite having published more than 20 books, the joy that Prose still finds in a detail, gesture or word should inspire the writer who is still working out his or her first." Adam Braver

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Part creative writer’s guide, part homage to the enduring wisdom of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, Prose’s book, like so many other fine reflections on reading that have been published in recent years, champions the academically unfashionable art of close reading. … If there’s a flaw in Reading Like a Writer, it’s that Prose’s elegant restraint makes for an insightful but not particularly moving tribute to good writing." Maureen Corrigan

Critical Summary

National Book Award finalist Francine Prose (for Blue Angel) is an evangelist for the practice of improving one’s writing by reading the great writers. After reading her extremely thorough and humorous analysis of works that demonstrate the highest craft of wordsmithery, it’s hard not to convert to her way of thinking, though not everyone will adore her occasionally dictatorial tone or agree with her choices of who is (and isn’t) "great." At the same time, she is remarkably fair-minded in her choice of subjects, from Herman Melville to ZZ Packer and Deborah Eisenberg. (And it’s worth checking out her list of 117 "Books to Be Read Immediately.") Critics, many of them past or present teachers of writing, universally recommend this book not only in academic settings but also for casual readers, would-be novelists, and everyone who shares Prose’s love of language.

Also by the Author

Blue Angel (2000): In this satirical novel, Ted Swenson teaches creative writing at a lower-tier school in rural Vermont. Adding insult to injury, though he’s had success as a novelist in the past, he’s currently stuck on his current effort—a crisis leading to much drinking and depression. When a gifted young female student, Angela, enrolls in his class, Ted is inspired by her work—and by her. Of course, Ted is married, and Angela woos Ted to get Ted’s editor see her work. Her behavior probably isn’t leading anywhere good. Perhaps the best parts of the novel are the samples of bad writing from Ted’s less capable students.