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53 of 53 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A wise companion for any writer
This book is a plea to slow down.

Francine Prose (I'll call her 'Francine' with apologies - there's an obvious problem with calling her 'Prose') is a novelist and she teaches creative writing. Her aim here is not to bottle her classwork but to offer a complementary course in close reading. A writing workshop, she feels, "can be useful. A good teacher can...
Published on 13 Jun 2012 by Alan Barker

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53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars NOT WITHOUT FLAWS, BUT PLENTY OF FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Won't teach you how to write, but it may serve to heighten your awareness of techniques that can be employed to bring credibility to a piece of work. I particularly liked points in the books where she highlights differences between clichéd language and more original language, and emphasises the importance of word economy: how to say only what needs to be said...
Published on 10 Aug 2008 by Easily Me


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53 of 53 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A wise companion for any writer, 13 Jun 2012
This review is from: Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (Paperback)
This book is a plea to slow down.

Francine Prose (I'll call her 'Francine' with apologies - there's an obvious problem with calling her 'Prose') is a novelist and she teaches creative writing. Her aim here is not to bottle her classwork but to offer a complementary course in close reading. A writing workshop, she feels, "can be useful. A good teacher can show you how to edit your work." And the right class can create a community "that will help and sustain you." But the best way to learn how to write is to read great books.

Slowly.

Slow reading, says Francine, helps us learn "the seemingly obvious but oddly underappreciated fact that language is the medium we use in much the same way a composer uses notes."

So this most definitely isn't a `how to' book. A manual, she says, usually tells you how *not* to write; in contrast, "reading a masterpiece can inspire us by showing us how a writer does something brilliantly."

In eight chapters, she shows us precisely that. Looking at words, paragraphs, narration, character, dialogue, details and gesture, she offers close readings of texts from a dizzyingly wide range of writers, many of them new to this reviewer.

If you're younger than me, you may find Francine's project old-fashioned. Close reading was born with the New Criticism favoured by her high school teacher; a mode of reading that fell seriously out of favour during the late 70s and 80s, "when literary academia split into warring camps of deconstructionists, Marxists, feminists and so forth". Francine remains resolutely unideological. Whatever rules or general advice she offers in her writing class, she finds that close reading undercuts with particular exceptions. "Literature," she says, "not only breaks the rules, but makes us realize that there *are none*."

If you find that a seriously uncomfortable truth - well, stay with her, because the best comes last.

Some of the readings, in truth, are closer than others. But throughout the book, Francine startles us with stunning insights. On narration: the question's not "third voice or first voice?"; instead, "the truly problematic question is: Who is listening?" On details: "If we want to write something memorable, we might want to pay attention to how and what we remember." On gesture: "One notices how rarely - almost never - Jane Austen uses physical gesture."

Her greatest hero - unsurprisingly, perhaps - is Chekhov, who wrote that "a writer must be as objective as a chemist", and that "it is time for writers to admit that nothing in this world makes sense."

No easy answers, then. Close reading is hard work - almost as hard as writing. But for Francine, it's also an exercise in freedom. "Reading," she says, "can give you the courage to resist all the pressures that our culture exerts on you to write in a certain way." If, like most people who try to write, you've "experienced not only the need for bravery but a failure of nerve," then this book will be a solace, a source of inspiration, and a boon companion.

I started this book sceptical; but I'll be returning to it on a regular basis.

A longer version of this review appears at:

http://justwriteonline.typepad.com/distributed_intelligence/2012/06/in-praise-of-slow-reading.html
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53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars NOT WITHOUT FLAWS, BUT PLENTY OF FOOD FOR THOUGHT, 10 Aug 2008
Won't teach you how to write, but it may serve to heighten your awareness of techniques that can be employed to bring credibility to a piece of work. I particularly liked points in the books where she highlights differences between clichéd language and more original language, and emphasises the importance of word economy: how to say only what needs to be said.

I found certain chapters - `Close Reading', `Words', `Narration', `Character', `Dialogue' and `Gesture' - both interesting and informative, and I believe they considerably sharpen the tools needed to critically analyse other's work if we are to improve our own writing and yet avoid overt imitation or, worse, plagiarism.

You do, however, get the impression in two of those interesting and informative chapters - `Character' and `Dialogue' - that, although very good points are made, much of what is included is unnecessary: too often much of these chapters seem to merely serve to summarise lengthy sections of stories she particularly likes, but not provide anything more to a valid point that was made succinctly enough in one or two paragraphs. I wish to avoid being too critical here, though, as the points in these chapters are generally well-made and maybe the length of some of the examples used here is necessary for emphasis; to avoid these points being neglected as incidental digressions.

Here, though, I must mention the two chapters - `Sentences' and `Paragraphs' - that I believe are essentially pointless as they are too analytical of specific examples and bring out little in general that a practising writer may use to inspire their own technique. I would also go as far as to say that where good points are made - in `Sentences' - the examples used to highlight these are not particularly good and, in some cases, serve more to contradict than to clarify. In addition, coming as do so early in the book - chapters one and two - is fairly off-putting and could deter you from wishing to read further, which would be a shame as there is much here for a close and critical reader to consider when approaching their own reading and writing.

And that would be the book in a nutshell: yes, there is a lot to be had from it and is, therefore, worth recommending for that, but there will be the occasional section where you may ask yourself why you are bothering.

All-in-all though, worth the time and effort.
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50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Be a Better Reader in Order to Become a Better Writer, 29 Dec 2006
You certainly are a person who enjoys reading. The beauty of this book is that its author teaches us how to read carefully, deliberately and slowly in order to digest and extract the ideas behind the words, and also to identify the style of an specific writer. By doing so Francine Prose gives us the tool that we may require to become a better writer. Basically is a process of learning by example, and Prose goes all the way to select and bring us a lot of examples, both from classical and contemporary authors.

As you advance through the chapters you will find examples covering the fundamentals of writing, including aspects related to narrative, plot development, characters creation, as well as the basics of sentence and paragraph structure.

Even if you have no intention at all of becoming a writer you will love this book, since it also teaches us how to have a better appreciation of what we read.
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48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Useful and highly enjoyable, 22 Feb 2009
By 
Michael Faulkner "Proofreader|author, The Blu... (Strangford Lough, N. Ireland) - See all my reviews
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The title struck a chord because when I read a good book I'm forever stopping and thinking, `How did she do that?' or `Where did that construction come from?' - and whereas I've always thought of this as a bad idea because it tends to interrupt the flow, Francine Prose actively encourages the habit and indeed demonstrates how to indulge it in forensic detail.

I found Reading Like a Writer quite fascinating. It takes the reader on a crash course in close reading, starting at the level of single words and sentences, then paragraphs, dialogue etc. to explore the writer's intentions with a particular inflection or form of words, and demonstrating that what we enjoy as rhythmic, lucid prose which engages us and carries the narrative along, is the result of careful choices, often so subtle as to be near-invisible. Every point is illustrated by example, and if the list of writers is subjective I would say that's inevitable, perhaps crucial - it's certainly wide enough, and there are several writers whose work I'm keen to explore now that I've been introduced to them.

The author clearly enjoys breaking the `rules' - we share a suspicion of the writing-course mantra `Show, don't tell' - and the final chapter on Chekov, rule-breaker par excellence, shows that we are in good company.
I would recommend the book to anyone interested in good prose, whether to read it or write it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something for everyone., 7 Jan 2014
By 
Bookie (UK) - See all my reviews
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I've lingered over the rating for this book. Is it truly a 5 or rightly a 4 star? I've plumped for the former on the basis that there is a universal, albeit less popular truth here. Sometimes, slow is good.

We live in a throw away world increasingly dominated by speed. No time to write or punctuate so 'txt spk rls'...convenience of time over content so if it's fast it must be good. Not always so.

I'm an avid reader. Now, mostly for pleasure but previously I'd acquired fast/speed reading skills to assimilate large amounts of work related text. Mostly dry, policy related documents or technical background data. Speed reading is great for that; skim the whole, identify and absorb the salient bits, move over the rest.

The principles explored here turn a number of concepts on their head. Like a fine or good wine, reading is something to be savoured not gulped. Reading for pleasure should be an emotive experience where words reach into the soul. Even a simple sentence can strike a chord. This book encourages the reader to step back, slow down and think. What was the author trying to achieve? What are they saying? How are they saying it?

In part it took me back some years to a time where an exam book was almost a line by line dissection of any narrative text. Clinical but thought provoking. This book examines similar principles in a more productive and positive way. As a reader, I found it affirming, helpful and instructive. I've often resisted fast reading for pleasure and this book confirms what may be missed and why. For writers, there's a whole different perspective on how to truly engaged with readers.

Really enjoyed the content and the easy but not patronising approach so it's a 5 star winner for that.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `to be read immediately'..., 16 Sep 2011
By 
S. MOHAMADI (London,SW) - See all my reviews
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No serious reader should be without this book.It would change the way you read forever.It is highly organised and full of advice on reading critically and fruitfully. It is authoritative, highly entertaining and contain a fine list of literature called `to be read immediately'! That section alone deserves the price you are paying for the book. Besides, there is a lively and frank interview with the author at the very end that is quite interesting. Very much recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic reference, 9 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (Paperback)
Fantastic book, true to its name which gets straight to the point, filled with very helpful tips in getting the most of your reading experience. Reading it seems is similar to driving cars! As we get better we seem to drive faster which makes us oblivious to the obstacles somehow. Reading can induce a similar habit of reading too fast, which results in less absorption of the context or and flow of the book in our hands. Personally, I am facing a very real issue of reading too fast, an acquired habit I am desperately trying to change. Hopefully this book can result in motivating this change in me which I know will not be easy.
The book is also filled with other tips to improve writing skills as well as various different styles to help improve writing. Very nice and helpful book, but not entirely sure most of the tips will be that useful to the writers in Britain though.

I plan to use this book as a reference for my next writing venture.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `Literature is an endless source of courage and confirmation.', 10 Aug 2011
By 
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
I was drawn to this book by some enthusiastic reviews by fellow readers. I was curious to find out what Ms Prose has to say on whether creative writing can be taught, keen to find out which writers she admires, which books she recommends, and why.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book: I particularly liked Ms Prose's suggestion that although writing workshops can be helpful, the best way to learn how to write is to read widely. Ms Prose encourages readers to read closely, to read every word and pay attention to the words used. Reading like a writer requires, perhaps, a different blend of the reading skills used in some other occupations. Words, for writers, are the `raw material out of which literature is crafted'. Words, for readers, constitute a finished work. Ms Prose suggests that the reader consider each word used and ask: `.. what sort of information is each word - each word choice - trying to convey?' For some of us, that conscious slowing down of reading won't always be easy.

`Details are what persuade us that someone is telling the truth - a fact that every liar knows instinctively and too well.'

There's advice about words, sentences, and paragraphs, about narration and character, about dialogue, details and gestures. What makes this advice come alive is the examples Ms Prose gives, and the writers whose work she draws on to demonstrate the points she makes. This leads to a list of book recommendations which inevitably, in my case, adds books to my personal `must read' list. But I'm drawn most immediately to want to read more work by Anton Chekhov. I like the way in which Ms Prose drew on her own reading of Chekhov's short stories, found examples of how he had successfully broken the `rules' of fiction writing which contradicted advice she had given her students. It isn't the contradiction I find interesting, it's the focus on how Chekhov wrote, on being receptive to the needs of any particular story.

`The advantage of reading widely, as opposed to trying to formulate a series of general rules, is that we learn there are no general rules, only individual examples to help point you in a direction in which you might want to go.'

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Refreshing Book, 26 Feb 2008
By 
Well Read "saro319" (Norhampton England) - See all my reviews
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Francine Prose explicates on writing creatively with a masterful analysis. The rules for storytelling are refreshingly challenged, using many examples of well-known author's writing styles. This is a book for reflective readers, who love the way words are woven to create and tell a story. For writers who want to create stories that are not hidebound by dead rules. In the first chapter Prose poses the question: "Can creative writing be taught?" Her answer to this, we learn to write by trial and error, and by example when reading books. Reading slowly, carefully, and concentrating on the writers for whom every word in a paragraph is essential for reader impact. In my estimation, this is a most stimulating book for anyone fascinated with novel reading and writing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book to read immediately!, 22 July 2013
By 
Asphodelia (Brighton, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (Paperback)
I'd had this book in my wish list for a while - I was reluctant to buy it as I worried that it would be too academic, too `technical' for me. Then someone picked it from my wish list for my birthday and I had excuse - I had to read it.

I am glad to report that this is not an academic book, or a text aimed at professional writers. It really is aimed at anyone who enjoys reading and who may be dabbling with writing. I had never heard of Francine Prose (she could only be a writer with that name!) until I came across this title, so I can't comment on her fiction work but I wish all non-fiction writers wrote like her - her style is clear and simple, sometimes slightly conspiratory. Reading RLAW was like being in a classroom with one of those really great teachers who don't talk down to you, you know the type, the ones who are still learning with you as they go along.

RLAW is packed with examples from all types of fiction, and at the end there is even a `Books to be read immediately' appendix which I will no doubt use for inspiration to add to my ever growing reading list.

If I have one slight criticism, is that on a couple of occasions, the extracts used to illustrate a certain point went on a bit too long. I find it difficult to read long chunks of fiction when they are taken out of context, especially when I haven't heard about the book or the writer before. But that's fine - I skipped. Bad student, I know.

If you are a voracious reader, an aspiring writer or a bit of both, this book is definitely a must for your library: a book for book lovers by a book lover. I know that I will go back to it over and over again.
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