Monday, August 29, 2011
Last Monday Book: Reading Like a Writer
You regular readers might recall that I’ve been having some trouble getting into my reading this summer. So I thought that Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer – A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them might be just the ticket to inspire me in both my reading and my writing.
Prose is a prolific author, critic, and essayist who also teaches literature and writing. And, IMHO, she has the best last name for a writer ever. The book often has an accessible academic tone to it, which made me feel as if I were sitting in on a lecture given by a very smart and personable professor.
The sections of the book, and the order in which they are presented, struck me as very similar to building a house…or the complicated Lego projects my sons love. Begin with words. It sounds simple, but it made me realize how I, as a reader and writer, take words for granted. Prose’s advice: slow down. Read more slowly and we’ll realize that “all the elements of good writing depend on the writer’s skill in choosing one word instead of another.”
After we understand the power of words, we move on to sentences. I hope we all have had the experience of reading such a perfect sentence that we’re almost reluctant to leave it behind. Regardless of length, a sentence should be strong and clear. It’s not a sin to write a sentence that is a hundred words long; if it is beautifully readable, it’s okay to ask the reader to stay the course.
After sentences come paragraphs, which provide rhythm and momentum. And once this framework of the ‘house’ is complete, Prose lets the characters in and examines their dialogue, details, and gestures, pointing out which types of attributes ring true and which ones fall flat as clichéd pancakes. Throughout the book, analysis of excerpts from a variety of authors—Jane Austen, Jonathan Franzen, and Anton Chekhov among them—offers inspiration (and occasionally intimidation).
Reading Like a Writer did indeed inspire me to make a bigger dent in my to-be-read stack, but it also made me want to read more carefully, to slow down and pay closer attention to the words on the page.
Are you a speedy reader or do you take the time to savor the words?