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Reading Like a Writer – Francine Prose – my reading notes

Francine Prose's Reading Like a WriterI brought Francine Prose’s book, Reading Like a Writer with me on a research trip to London in the fall of 2022 for 2 reasons: 1) I thought the plane I was taking would not have power plugs in each seat so I believed I wouldn’t be able to work, and 2) I wanted to read it while on The Tube while roaming London.

What Prose asks of her readers (also, would-be-writers) is that we pay attention to EACH WORD.

This statement, I know, is going to stir a debate in the scholarly realm, for multiple reasons. I advocate for having multiple reading strategies: skimming, close reading, etc. A couple of tweets by scholars I know and respect (and love) have gone viral on whether we should read each word or skim all the time.

Well, I very strongly believe that there is a place for each strategy: meso-level reading, super quick skim, in-depth.

What Francine Prose asks of us is to consider that, for all the value that skimming has, learning how to write WILL demand of the would-be-writer to READ EACH AND EVERY WORD from the stuff they read. She does NOT devalue skimming (nor do I, see my post)

I will very openly say here that while I learned to speed-read when I was in grade school, and I can read quite fast, I actually took the time to Read Every Single Word of Francine Prose’s “Reading Like A Writer” because she proposes that we do so, in order to learn how to write.

It took me about 1 hour and 25 minutes-ish to get from Terminal 3 at Heathrow to where I am staying, at Queen Mary University of London. I decided to ONLY take the Underground, and to NOT check my iPhone and solely read Prose’s book. I made it through page 67, reading EACH WORD.

I also took abundant notes (remember I now carry a small notebook everywhere I go? I learned my lesson the hard way).

Prose goes out of her way to show us two remarkable things:

1) How to sign-post properly, and

2) How to read authors to distill their insights to help us.

Part of what has made me successful as a writer has been that I always do what Prose suggests we ought to do: read authors whose writing I love and try and draw insights from the way in which they line words up, construct sentences, and build paragraphs and cohesive narratives.

I went through Prose’s book looking exactly for the markers of a good sentence, a well-crafted paragraph, how she put words together. Her sign-posting is unreal. Each paragraph she writes is self-contained and gives you an important insight on how to write. 1 IDEA PER PARAGRAPH.

I read Prose the way she suggest we ought to read other writers: looking for what I could draw from her writing to inform mine. Other authors who write books on writing often give you their pearls of wisdom, what THEY believe is THE RIGHT WAY.

Not Prose. She shows you multiple scenarios, possibilities, ways of knowing and understanding writers’ craft. While Prose DOES distills her own wisdom into gems, she does so in a conversational style that makes you feel like you’re sitting besides her while she teaches you the craft of Reading and of Writing.

Bottom line: 10/10, I will keep this book in my “To Continually Check Out” shelf.

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