Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose (Shane's book 32, 2008)

The subtitle of this book, A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, neatly summarises what Francine Prose does in this book. Firstly, and most importantly, she demonstrates how creative writing can be, if not learned, then at least inspired by reading great literature. Secondly, she shows how close reading can enhance the pleasure of reading even for those who don’t plan to write. [amtap book:isbn=0060777052]

And finally, this book is about imparting a love of literature. Often Prose - and what a name that is for an author - is so keen to convey her love of a book she has just quoted that she doesn’t find much to say about the excerpt. This can be frustrating because when she does elaborate on a piece she invariably picks up on a detail that would otherwise have been overlooked.

Beginning with a chapter on the importance of close reading, Prose gradually pulls back, like a camera zooming out, devoting a chapter to words, then to sentences and another to paragraphs, ending up with a couple of chapters about writing in general.

This is a much more personal book than James Woods’ How Fiction Works, which I reviewed in May. Prose focuses exclusively on writing she loves, often quoting it at great length, and doesn’t spend any time on work she dislikes. Her tastes are varied and I’ve added two or three writers to my ‘must read’ list based on the excerpts included here.