January 7, 2007

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

I went on a book buying orgy. Thanks to this and Christmas (gift certificates to book stores are Awesome. Period.) I have a fantastical amount of fiction that wants reading. This is very happy and I'm getting a tingle just looking at the ridiculous pile of books that has been quartered off and whose parts are slowly migrating around the house. Sigh of contentment...

So. Where was I?

A yes, a book on reading. So, with all of the books I bought, only one was non-fiction and I decided to start with that one because I'm currently in the middle of "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" (I know, even I can't believe I hadn't read it yet) and as many may know, it's a little on the longish side and wants all of one's attention. I'm one of those people who doesn't like to have their salad on the same plate as their steak for fear of getting a steaky salad or a salady steak. And what does this have to do with anything, one might ask? Well, I'll tell you. I'm the same way with books. Because I'm reading the rather steaky (and yummy by the way) "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" I wanted something seperate and different so as not to make the flavors mush together. So, I picked up Francine Prose's "Reading Like a Writer".

This book is fantastic. Actually I don't think I have a word for how great I think this book is. Prose goes through the basics of close reading - reading not just for content but for characterization, structure, style and voice. She starts with words and moves on to the appreciation of sentences, paragraphs, dialogue and narrative - everything that makes prose effective. I wish my undergraduate classes had been such a comprehensive examination of how fiction functions. I especially appreciate that Prose includes numerous and diverse works as examples of what she very succinctly explores in her text. I'm getting a new taste of works that I've read and loved (Wuthering Heights and Madame Bovary), works that I've read and disliked (Hemingway and Gravity's Rainbow) and works that I wouldn't have thought to pick up but now very much want to. This accounts for a great deal of the migrating pile.

Admittedly, I'm an academically inclined person who is developing my own skills as a writer, so it follows that I would find "Reading Like a Writer" to be completely facinating from a topical perspective. But even if I wasn't looking to have my thoughts provoked, I think that Francine Prose does it in such an engaging way that the process she outlines of reading closely and slowly, maybe even lovingly, would effect me regardless. It's a good thing to slow down, think about what you've read and not just scan for the plot. This is something I've gotten out of the habit of doing after months of marathon reading for my graduate oral exams. It's really nice to get Prose's refresher course and settle back into a richer reading experience than I've been able to enjoy for awhile.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you found a true gem. I totally commiserate (is that the right word?) with you on the fact that reading to really enjoy the words can so easily disappear, especially when doing so for a specific reason, e.g. graduate school. It can be so disheartening when you find, as an avid lover of the printed word, that you have lost the pleasure in the text.

Thanks for the wake up. Slowing down is something that I think I will try again too. :-) Enjoy your new books.