27 August 2012

Summer Reading: Reading (and still reading) like a writer

There have been (and I have written about) a ton of blog-to-book adaptations, but Francine Prose's READING LIKE A WRITER is a book that should beget a blog.

This is an outsize request for an author who doesn't even have a website (as it seems), but hear me out: READING LIKE A WRITER is a useful but not that revolutionary guide to close reading for fun and profit technique, clearly compiled from Prose's years teaching writing here, there and everywhere. (If anyone out there is a professor, the scene of Prose cramming Chekhov in a Greyhound bus terminal might be inspirational... hopefully not too dispiriting. I loved it.) I don't mean to downgrade her advice, which overall is excellent. I didn't find it too earth-shattering, but only because I majored in it.

The real treat for me in this book was hearing about the authors Prose loves and looks up to, the ones she uses as models for her students and holds up as exemplary. It would be hard to come away from this book not wanting to read the aforementioned collections of Chekhov short stories, along with A SHIP MADE OF PAPER, Henry Green's LOVING, even treat A MOVEABLE FEAST to a second look. Her habit of using block quotes to illustrate especially good use of detail or dialogue or character serve as textbook examples without the textbook feeling. It wouldn't be too hard to extrapolate writing exercises from them should someone be so inclined; in almost all cases you see what she's getting at.

(This just in: Having written it several times, I am just now realizing how well suited Prose's last name is to her profession. She didn't marry into it either. Ah, should we all be so lucky.)

These passages are why I think Prose should have her own blog -- to call out exemplary parts of prose that she comes across in her reading, that can offer Teachable Moments. A SHIP MADE OF PAPER is one of the most recent books quoted (2003) and surely Prose has come across exemplars since READING LIKE A WRITER came out that could be similarly didactic. For concerns of time, the blog could only publish twice a week: The excerpt (maybe on a Tuesday), and then the professorial gloss (on a Thursday), and in between readers could speculate on what the device of the week is, and whether it's working, and how it fits into the overall work if they're familiar. Dear Professor Prose, if you need help with online strategy, just let me know! I would love to see what she's reading now, not just what she has read.

That's why I liked this book and will take several of its recommendations, but I probably won't go back to it. I'll stick to my personal pantheon of WRITING DOWN THE BONES, ON WRITING and LETTERS TO A FICTION WRITER.

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