READING LIKE A WRITER by Francine Prose — a Review

In the added material at the back of READING LIKE A WRITER by Francine Prose, the book is described as “like Harold Bloom, but written by and for human beings.” I think that is a fair description. This isn’t the most exciting or compelling book, but it is less dry than Bloom. And it does have moments of great beauty.

You can break Prose’s book is really two books: in one part, she teaches people how to read a book in such a way as to enjoy the pleasure of the language; in the second part, she teaches writers how to improve their writing–to make every word earn its place.

In the first part,Prose teaches you how to break down a piece of fiction to the smallest pieces and then appreciate how those pieces are built up into a large, wonderful structure: the novel. Once you appreciate that, and can read with an eye that appreciates that beauty, taking your time, and savoring the author’s ability.

In the second part, Prose confronts a lot of “rules” about writing, knocking them down with powerful examples. What you are left with is probably Prose’s chief rule: it’s about finding an original voice. If a writer can focus on interesting word choice, groundbreaking detail, and contrarian paths, they can surprise readers in a wonderful way. Finally, she concludes with a list of 100 books that should be read immediately.

This book probably appeals to a small group of writers and word nerds. If you fall within that group, you can probably put this book to use, even if it is a bit dry.

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