Monday, April 13, 2009

Reading Like a Writer

Yesterday I started reading Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer. I'm just about to start the third chapter and so far I like it. She advocates "close reading," or reading in a way where you absorb every word, every pause, every punctuation mark. She believe that by analyzing the words an author both chose to use AND chose to leave out, we can gain a more complete understanding of the work.

Her theory seems to make sense, but it also means it'll take longer to read a book. While I consider myself a fast reader, I do take time to reread passages that particularly strike me, so I can see where Prose is coming from.

She also talks about the fear some writers have of reading while working on their own novel. They worry that whatever they read my influence their style and work it's way into their manuscript. Prose, however, takes the opposite stance. She compares reading while writing to watching a dance performance, then secretly trying to moves in your bedroom. She says that reading well-written works inspires her to write better, and that she goes into a new book in the hopes that reading the great writers will influence her own writing.

I agree with both sides (is that possible?). I avoided reading A Thousand Splendid Suns for months -- half a year, actually -- because I admire Hosseini's writing and didn't want to accidentally mimic him. Once I finally read it, I realized that was silly. I was more inspired than I'd been in months and knocked out a couple new chapters in my draft. Reading a book that is so well crafted drives me to do better myself, and that is what Prose believes.

One funny side to all this is I was hesitant to start reading Reading because I wasn't sure I wanted to read like a writer. Most of the writers I know turn up their noses at "lesser" books and complain of being unable to read without wanting to rewrite certain passages. Would reading this book ruin reading for me?

So far, I think not, but I still have 230 pages to go. I'll let you know.

19 comments:

Turkey Lurkey said...

I read your blog on reading a reading book and if I read it write, a writer reads a well written book to write a book that is a good read. Write?

Penguin said...

Turkey,
Stop it, you confuse me.

Melanie Avila said...

ROFL! Turkey, I think you have the write idea.

(Side note: do you have any IDEA how many times I type "write" when I mean to say "right"?)

Melanie Avila said...

Penguin, I'm write there with you.

Nadine said...

I look forward to your thoughts on the book. I usually read when I am writing [not simultaneously :)] but I always read a different genre than what I am writing.

Melanie Avila said...

Nadine, I try to read a different genre as well. That has backfired though because I read a sort-of romance and ended up adding a mini love scene in my MS, lol.

Pink Ink said...

I've heard of this book before. Sounds like a scrumptious read. Thanks for the recommendation.

I get write right mixed up a lot, too!

Robin said...

I think I have to stay away from that book. I'm confused enough, already!

Lately, I've made my reading even more confusing by skipping around on my Kindle, and listening to another audiobook on my ipod. It's getting ridiculous. Plus, at night, I plug in my phone, my ipod, my computer, and my Kindle. How bizarre is that?

Melanie Avila said...

Pink, I hope it's as good as I've heard.

Melanie Avila said...

Robin, you kill me. :) The only thing on that list that I have is my computer, and it stays plugged in. Someday...

Amy Sue Nathan said...

Reading like a writer is exhausting to me...but I can't help it as it does help me tremendously. I'm never worried I'll mimic someone because their stories are not mine, but I think when a type of transition, sentence, thought process works, I tuck it away and use their method of attack, if you will, if I can. It's never exactly the same, but I do it in the hopes of producing the same result - something that works.

Melanie Avila said...

Amy, well said. There was a tip in the second chapter about describing something calm just before a moment of action to help pacing, and I jumped into my wip and followed that advice.

gypsyscarlett said...

I don't close read every book. That would drive me nuts. A lot of books, I just like to kick back with, and read for pure enjoyment.

But I have learnt a lot from slowly reading some of my favorite works.

colbymarshall said...

I don't like how much I now tend to find plot holes in books I read, now that I read like a writer. But, I force myself to keep going!

Benjamin Solah said...

Ah, this would be bad for me. I take enough time reading as it is, maybe because I already can't help but reread special passages.

I tend to mimic some writers though, but I read such a mix that the voice ends up being my own. That one exception was after reading Fight Club, where I couldn't help but mimic Palahnuik.

Melanie Avila said...

Gypsy, there's definitely a fine line. I know I'd never have gotten through the Twilight books if I'd try to close-read those. Gah -- that sparklies!

Melanie Avila said...

Colby, that's what happens to me now too. Or just stumbling on a word choice that I don't like.

Melanie Avila said...

Hi Benjamin! You sound a lot like me in that sense. I don't intend to reread passages, but I'll suddenly realize I've read the same paragraph three times because I like it so much.

Janna Qualman said...

That sounds like an excellent books! Thanks for sharing all the pointers.