Friday, August 6, 2010

Book Review: Reading Like a Writer

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them
by Francine Prose, (c) 2006

People have told me I should be a writer, because I write coherently and fast.  In high school and college, I nearly always wrote papers the night before they were due, and got As or Bs.  Part of this is because I spend a lot of time subconsciously planning and mapping out the paper, so that when I sit down to write it, most of it just flows.  So yeah, I write well.

I also love books.  Books, books, books.  Even books that I don't like (too long, too boring, too dense) I appreciate because they add to the diversity of the global population, if you will, of books.  (It's the same reason I appreciate radishes, or cauliflower.  I don't like to eat them, but I'm glad they exist.)

For these reasons, I figured this might be a good book for me.  And while I found it interesting, most of what I got from it is that I am not a *writer*.  I cannot stand to spend hours on end obsessively editing and revising a single sentence, or word, in order to achieve perfection.  A little bit of editing, okay, fine, to make sure I don't sound like an idiot, or accidentally repeat myself.  But Prose's book is all about reading literature and noticing how the authors find the exact word, phrase, description, or whatever, that conveys not just the plot but the subtext and the character of the work as a whole.  And I appreciate that, I really do.  I am capable of doing close reading exercises like Prose demonstrates, and coming to the conclusion that these great authors are, in fact, great, and really know how to do their thing.

But close reading, I think, is like hindsight; it is possible to see everything clearly and say, knowingly, "Ah, yes.  The author said this instead of that, which shows x.  How inspired."  But translating that after-awareness that we gain from reading into the forethought and ability to create one's own x is much more difficult, both in terms of time consumption and likely frustration levels.

Maybe someday I will be a *writer* and thus capable of such intentional nuance of language, but not yet.  I don't have the patience.

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