READING LIKE A WRITER by Francine Prose is a gem of a book for those of us trying to hone the craft of writing. Ms. Prose’s advice can basically be boiled down to five points:


  1. Be able to look at a sentence and decide what to cut.
  2. Read your work aloud, listening closely for cadence and rhythm. It’s best to have a group of friends for this activity.
  3. When you read literature, you should be able to trace patterns and make connections. This is the backbone of literary criticism.
  4. Close reading means reading one word at a time WITHOUT skimming. You should develop this habit.
  5. As you slow down to read word by word, ask yourself what sort of information is EACH WORD conveying.


ReadingLikeAWriterThe book is organized into nine chapters, starting with close reading, and going through words, sentences, and paragraphs to narration, character and dialogue, and finishing with details and gesture.


Ms. Prose has wonderful examples from the work of great writers. She uses the party scene from James Joyce’s THE DEAD as an example of “how to orchestrate the voices of the guests into a chorus from which the principal players step forwards, in turn, to take their solos.” She uses the opening sentence of Katherine Mansfield’s THE DAUGHTERS OF THE LATE COLONEL to show how the construction of that opening sentence contributes to the overall tone and theme of the story. She uses the “daring deployment of the incorrect word” in the first sentence of Joyce’s THE DEAD to show how it momentarily puts us in Lily’s point of view.


Yes, Ms. Prose uses lots of examples. Yes, some of them are very long. But as someone who wallows in wonderful writing, I sympathized with how hard it was for her to let go of that marvelous prose. And this was the way that great writers of the past, like Chekhov or Austen learned to write themselves. After all, they didn’t have the opportunity to study for an MFA in creative writing!

For anyone who wants to improve their writing, I highly recommend this book. Five stars.

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