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.