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Publisher's Summary

In this entertaining and edifying New York Times best-seller, acclaimed author Francine Prose invites you to sit by her side and take a guided tour of the tools and tricks of the masters and to discover why their work has endured.

Written with passion, humor, and wisdom, Reading Like a Writer will inspire listeners to return to literature with a fresh eye and an eager heart; to take pleasure in the long and magnificent sentences of Philip Roth and the breathtaking paragraphs of Isaac Babel; to look to John le Carre for a lesson in how to advance plot through dialogue; and to Flannery O'Connor for the cunning use of the telling detail. And, most importantly, she cautions listeners to slow down and pay attention to words, the raw material out of which all literature is crafted.

©2006 Francine Prose (P)2007 HarperCollins Publishers
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Critic Reviews

"Prose's observations are incandescent, and her examples are thrilling, ranging from Samuel Johnson to Katherine Mansfield, Flannery O'Connor, Raymond Chandler, Stanley Elkin, and Paula Fox." (Booklist)

What listeners say about Reading Like a Writer

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Well-played, Amazon!

Warning: Listening to this book will compel you to buy/download more books!
Listening to this one is like being in your favorite literature/writing class in college...only there are so many books covered here your college courses surely never covered them all.
Prose's analysis and observations only make you thirst for the original text, which is why I recently ordered the "Tales of Chekov" print set and downloaded Stephen Fry's narration of selected Chekov stories.

19 people found this helpful

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I’d just as soon watch paint dry

I made notes as I listened to this book. That’s what I do: I’m a voracious note-taker. The notes were initially meant to help me in the class that’s coming up in September (I’m a grad student), but it ended up being more of a diary. I thought I’d share them with others – a warning of what they will face if they choose to read this book – which I strongly suggest they do not:

I’ve been listening to “Reading Like a Writer” for a few hours now and, by page 53, chapter 3 entitled “Sentences,” I found the book less and less interesting, and harder and harder to stick with because all the author was doing was giving me one example after the next, after the next, after the next, with a few (VERY few) salient points in between. I can’t believe ANYONE needs THAT much repetition to “get it.” Regardless, I have fought my way to the beginning of chapter 9 (page 209), the chapter called “Gestures.”

I decided, after hearing the first two paragraphs of this chapter (the narrator is excellent, BTW, don’t want to take anything away from her), that I’d take a break and then settle myself down to give this one my undivided attention. The title sounded that intriguing. But here I am, half-way through, and once again I find myself heartily disappointed. I had really hoped I’d learn something new, but so far, this chapter is just as shallow and uninformative as the rest of the book.

Finally, at the bottom of page 228, nearly the end of the chapter, Prose enticed me with what seems like some long-awaited instruction: “If we are to use gesture—and why wouldn't we use this practical tool, this shortcut, this neat way of circumventing brain and mouth and proceeding directly to the heart—how can we use it more effectively? First of all, it's important…” But, alas, I was doomed to be disappointed. Just four words (be careful and sparing) and then she was back to more examples, and then that was it. What a letdown!

I decided to skip chapter 10, Learning from Chekhov, and go right to chapter 11, Reading for Courage, because it sounded interesting. Though, at this stage of the game, I knew better than to expect anything from this book.

(Then a few seconds later …) Oh, God – I’ve just listened to the first paragraph and I am sorry to say, this is nothing. It’s about why people fear writing. Oh, well. So much for that. I am truly surprised that (professor’s name omitted) chose this book for her course. Everyone taking this course must have some serious writing skills as a prerequisite. But this book, especially this chapter, seems like it’s aimed at total novices, if it’s aimed at writers at all.

Frankly, this entire book seems as though it was written more to impress the readers with the sheer number of books the author has read than it was to share any wealth of knowledge or impart any instruction.

I learned a long time ago that just because a person gets hired by an educational institution to stand up in front of a classroom, or even if they have a series of letters after their names (and Prose does not), that does not necessarily make them teachers. This is not to say Prose does not write well – she does – she just does not teach well with the words she has written in this book. Speaking of examples, Shelby tells us in “Steel Magnolias” that, “An ounce of pretention is worth a pound of manure.” Someone should have told Francine Prose that.

7 people found this helpful

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Practical, literate, generous

The treatment that you would expect at an Ivy league modern literature summer seminar. Good examples, truly helps to inform your focus as you read.

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I am Not Sure

A professor recommended this book to me to help with my writing career. I am not sure why because most of what was given was written like her life story and only little nuggets of facts were included. I tried to figure out what was so helpful in an 8+ hour listen but only came away with about 4 things. I guess that's better than wasting 8+ hours of my time and coming away with nothing. The narrator was very good.

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Great writing is effortless to the reader

Reading like a writer requires the reader to analyze the basic elements of the writing (rhythm, sentence, paragraph, dialogue, gesture, etc.), break them down, critique each part, and reassemble them. It is similar to a mechanic disassembling an engine, knowing each part, and assembling the engine back again. Only by understanding the pieces needed to make a well-constructed story and practicing the techniques, the reader can become a better writer. The author illustrates with many examples of excellent writing, like a long sentence with no adjectives and adverbs and yet flows smoothly in describing the scene. Great writing is effortless to the reader.

9 people found this helpful

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Great read!

I figured I already knew how to read like a writer but this was still fun to see how someone else approaches it. Plus it was fun getting to know more about a lot of classics and learn about new ones to add to my list.

2 people found this helpful

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Want to write? Read this.

Wonderful insights into the writing craft. Highly recommend. Multiple examples illustrate Prose’s points, and have now led me to some brilliant works of literature.

2 people found this helpful

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Enjoyable Examples

I found that the narrator did not match the tone of the content, and that she somehow devalued it. Overall though, it was inspirational and I will be reading some of the suggested examples.

2 people found this helpful

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I try to read or listen to this book once a year.

a great book on reading and writing. very well read ' very well writtem. I recommend

2 people found this helpful

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Such a pleasure!

This is a great book for BOTH reader and writers. The performance is excellent and I love the content. It opened my eyes to writers I would not have known. Highly recommended!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Jaroslaw
  • 11-21-10

Disappointing

I expected a series of good examples with deep analysis of what made book work or not work. There were far fewer very bad and too long examples, the analysis was typically slight, and there was too much unnecessary material.

2 people found this helpful