Last week, I finished a nonfiction book by Francine Prose called Reading like a Writer, written in 2007. She taught Creative Writing classes for several years, and wrote this book to encourage people to hone their own creative writing process by learning to become more inspired readers. As I was reading, I could almost imagine myself sitting in one of her classes as she, with marked, hardly contained, excitement, introduced one moving story after another. Her love for literature shows through every line, every sentence, and every word. It was contagious.
I not only felt inspired to read, but also to write. She shows how every author has their own personality through the pages of their work. It really motivated me to embrace my own writing without second guessing my semantics or choice of vocabulary. It also showed me that writing isn’t just in words, sentences and paragraphs, but also in bigger ideas like the use of narration, character, dialogues, gestures, and details. Each of these was broken into chapters.
My favorite chapter was Details, which shows how authors have used small details within their stories to foreshadow or substantiate plot as well as build as much context as any straightforward action might. She says, “Details aren’t only the building blocks with which a story is put together, they’re also clues to something deeper, keys not merely to our subconscious but to our historical moment.” They are the substance to every story. The things we remember. As with every chapter, she proved this by using excerpts from well-known classic authors, as well as some I didn’t recognize.
I loved the excerpts she used, as well as how she discussed each one using the author’s history and writing personality. She made these popular historical authors become more human to me and not just these unknown entities that have managed to have their writing passed down through generations. At the end of the book, she makes a list of books to be read immediately, most of which she mentions through the excerpts in the book. It inspires me to pick up more of the classics and venture into stories that may not be as contemporary as I’m used to.
It did take longer to read this book than the ones I’m used to reading. It was more a pick up and put down kind of book, not really one to stay up to 1 AM reading by flashlight. However, its inspiration outweighed this completely. I can’t wait to dive back into Austen and Bronte with the knowledge I gained from this book. I would recommend it, especially if you are going to read any of the classics. It would be a great companion read to them. It’s like putting on a new set of glasses and seeing a world that was invisible to you before.