Review of Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose

This was required reading for one of my Creative Writing classes in college. While I was reading I kept thinking I’d rather be reading short stories. Francine Prose is right about one thing, you learn the most from reading the classics, or the masters.

Her list of suggested reading in the back led me to many youthful discoveries. She was so enthused about Chekhov that I ended up following her advice and reading the 13 volumes of his stories translated by Constance Garnett. In those volumes, almost everything you need to know about short stories is contained.

The contents of this book though, are more useful in theory. The style is nothing fancy, and does not draw me to toward Francine Prose’s fictional works. I’ve read other books on writing, written by writers. But they only seem to impact me when I like the writers who wrote them. It’s not that I don’t respect Prose, but like she says, learn by reading the classics. In my eyes, her work has not attained that status yet.

I cannot deny that there is plenty of practical advice in this book, but if you are anything like me, or other writers I’ve met, you have to learn how to write by failing first and overcoming the first 1000 pages of drivel. Maybe others have an easier time. The fact of the matter is, no one book has all the answers. You could spend all day reading books about books, and books about writing, but you have to do the things about which you read in order to gain the most from your efforts.

What is the difference between a close reading and a rereading? Should you labor over a short story, drawing meaning out of every line, or should you read it ten times, memorize passages, and live in the story? This book weighs different approaches, but is careful not to give you haphazard answers to questions you should answer yourself.

In the age of Goodreads, or I should say, now that I’ve discovered Goodreads, I’m not sure I’ll view these college-level bull session books in the same way.