Thursday, January 21, 2010

Reading Like A Writer

Emily Barton asserts in a New York Times review that Francine Prose's 2006 nonfiction bestseller, Reading Like a Writer, makes a much-needed contribution to the small but influential genre of writers' manuals.

"Useful teaching texts are few. For all the wisdom in John Gardner’s Art of Fiction, his sallies against 1970’s experimentalism are aging poorly, and undergrads seem to dislike his curmudgeonly tone. E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel is likewise yellowing at the edges. Classic reference books like Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and William K. Zinsser’s On Writing Well are thorough sources for writers of both fiction and nonfiction, but their focus on grammar and other supposedly arcane topics makes them slow going. (Maira Kalman’s illustrations for the new edition of The Elements of Style at least illuminate the Strunkian demands with quirky panache.) Eudora Welty's One Writer’s Beginnings, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King's On Writing are heartening, but perhaps because they’re so personal, the advice to be gleaned from them is scattershot.

"Another difficulty faced by writing teachers is, paradoxically, the lack of interest many students show in reading. And those who do read often lack the training to observe subtle writerly clues. There’s a real need, then, for Reading Like a Writer — a primer both for aspiring writers and for readers who’d like to increase their sensitivity to the elements of the writer’s craft.