Reading Like a Writer
By Francine Prose
HarperCollins, New York, 2006
This book for aspiring writers teaches by example. In it, Francine Prose, author of about two dozen works of fiction and non-fiction, examines various aspects of writing by quoting and then analyzing the works of famous authors.
The opening chapters on word choice, sentence structure, and paragraphing are the most useful and informative. I found much of the material in subsequent chapters to be quite tedious. The many lengthy excerpts from the works of Jane Austen, Chekhov, and others began to seem like filler, while Prose’s analysis became sparser. Admittedly, this may partly be due to the fact that I’m more interested in writing non-fiction than fiction.
The main idea of the book, however, is sound: to become a better writer examine closely the works of great writers. Don’t just read them, learn from them.
My favorite quote from the book comes from a writer friend of Prose who says, in regards to the rules of punctuation,
“… writing is a bit like inviting someone to your house. The writer is the host, the reader the guest, and you, the writer, follow the etiquette because you want your reader to be more comfortable, especially if you’re planning to server them something they might not be expecting.”
This of course applies to writing as a whole.