Book Review & Discussion : Reading Like a Writer

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A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them

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In this event, you’ll learn

When skim-reading is the right thing to do, and why it’s most often not

The four quantities of great sentences

What else you can imagine paragraphs as to get the most of them

The two kinds of narrators all great books rely on and how they work

Why being a good writer means being a good liar

About the Author

Francine Prose is the author of twenty-one works of fiction including, the highly acclaimed Mister Monkey; the New York Times bestseller Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932; A Changed Man, which won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize; and Blue Angel, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her works of nonfiction include the highly praised Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer, which has become a classic. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim and a Fulbright, a Director’s Fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, Prose is a former president of PEN American Center, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at Bard College.


In 1997, I was a recent college graduate living in London for six months and working at the Palace Theatre owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The Palace was a beautiful red brick, four-story theatre in the heart of London’s famous West End, and eight times a week it housed a three-hour performance of the musical Les Miserables. Because of antiquated fire-safety laws, every theatre in the city was required to have a certain number of staff members inside watching the performance in case of an emergency.

There was a Red Coat stationed on each of the theater’s four floors, and we all passed the time by sitting quietly in the back, reading books with tiny flashlights. It’s not easy trying to read in the dim light of a theatre—flashlight or no flashlight—and it’s even tougher with shrieks and shouts and gunshots coming from the stage. I had to focus intently on each and every word, often rereading a single sentence several times. Sometimes I got distracted and had to re-read entire paragraphs. As I struggled to read in this environment, I began to realize that the way I was reading—one word at a time—was exactly the same way that the author had written the text. I realized writing is a word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence process. The intense concentration required to read in the theater helped me recognize some of the interesting ways that authors string words into phrases into paragraphs into entire books.

ideas in this book

Rediscover the art of close reading to get inside a great writer’s head.

Word choice plays a powerful role in plot and character development.

Beautiful sentences are clean, clear, musical and rhythmic.

Paragraphs allow the reader to breathe.

The best narrators are the ones that intrigue you.

Action, thoughts and dialogue reveal a character’s unique personality to the reader.

Details are what makes characters and stories come to life.

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