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Reading Like a Writer    by Francine Prose order for
Reading Like a Writer
by Francine Prose
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Anyone (like me) who has spent considerable time on the frontlines doing battle against illiteracy has learned an inescapable truth: the business of teaching students about writing and reading has become an increasingly daunting challenge.

In taking on that challenge, as a teacher of English composition and literature, I have always been self-consciously fine-tuning my teaching strategies, looking for just the right methodology, the right texts, and the right examples to supplement my goal, which can be simply stated: Help students become competent (and enthusiastic) writers and readers.

Finally, because of Francine Prose's superb new book, I (and others like me who are obsessed with the joys of reading and writing) have an exquisite weapon to use in the arsenal against students' intellectual indifference and marginal literacy.

Reading Like a Writer is like no other previous book on the subject; I have looked at hundreds of books that have held out the promise of being 'the secret weapon' for my arsenal, but this new offering from Ms. Prose is the one for which I've been waiting for nearly forty years. My ready-reference shelf at my office desk now includes only Prose's Reading Like a Writer, the several editions of The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, my tattered copy of E. M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel, my battered and bruised Hodge's Harbrace Handbook, and my well-worn dictionary. The shelf is now complete!

My next step in my ongoing battle is clear: Reading Like a Writer is going to be on my students' required reading lists for all future courses.

As an accomplished author whose large body of work includes novels, short stories, and criticism 'shot through with corrosive wit and searing intelligence,' Prose's thesis in Reading Like a Writer is seductively simple. Writing, like reading, ought to be done 'one word at a time, one punctuation mark at a time'; moreover, to improve our reading and writing, we ought simply to read past models of excellence, and in doing so, we must 'read closely, word by word, sentence by sentence, pondering each deceptively minor decision that the writer has made.' With eleven chapters focused on different aspects of reading and writing, Prose's book becomes a fantastic buffet overflowing with delicious morsels: Close Reading, Words, Sentences, Paragraphs, Narration, Character, Dialogue, Details, Gestures, Learning from Chekhov, and Reading for Courage. Throughout the eleven chapters, Prose offers readers an inspirational meditation on the great writers of the past by including generous snippets of works, exemplars of perfection that we ought to emulate in our own writing. And - at the end of the book to make the entire feast even more satisfying - Prose offers a list of books that she highly recommends because of their enduring quality and their singular brilliance: Books to Be Read Immediately.

Finally, even if we aren't planning on writing a single word, Prose's prescriptive advice will serve us all well in our day-to-day reading pleasure and comprehension. You simply must read (and then you will treasure) this book!

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