When I read a really great book on the joys of writing I realize I’m completely in the wrong line of work. Don’t get me wrong, I love working in the library and especially in the fields of resource sharing and creative outreach. I also don’t really want to be a writer. I mean, I want to be a writer, but not in a “I sit in my study writing novels and poems all day” kinda way. My true calling is teaching; I desperately want to teach creative writing. College or high school would be idea, but I also have a desire to teach creative writing in a therapeutic way with abuse survivors or do writing workshops in prisons or shelters. My desire to write, create, and connect with others is a direct result of adoring the written word. A love of writing stems from a love of reading and writers learn their craft from reading.
It is my absolute, fundamental belief that writing and reading are not two separate things; it is a conversation. The writer doesn’t write in a vacuum and the reader doesn’t passively soak up words. This is truly active engagement in a complexly layered conversation. When I read an author’s work I am interpreting every word, paragraph break, image, plot point, comma, etc… I’m taking on the author’s world but through my eyes. When I write I express the world I see around me, but influenced by all the brilliant reading. Suffice it to say I want to help people express themselves via creative writing and to learn more about the world (and themselves) through reading excellent books, stories, and poems.
Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer is the type of book that has me all fired up to start street preaching writing. The premise of the book seems simple on first glance; she takes particular elements of a written work — words, sentences, paragraphs, narration, character, dialogue, details, and gesture — and looks closely at an author’s employment of these elements. Reading with this method allowed me to fully see the razor-sharp precision of each of Flannery O’Connor’s word choices, I understood the gestures characters use in Kafka’s work that aids in making the unbelievable believable, and I really need to get my hands on some Anton Chekov short stories because they are apparently manna for writers.
More than a creative writing manual, Reading Like a Writer is a veritable bon bon tray of delicious book talk. I have now added Francine Prose to my list of writers I wish were my friend. Seriously, coffee and book talk with Francine Prose would be pretty freaking exciting. There is a list included in the book of all the works discussed making it easy to “join” in the conversation. I highly recommend this to writers and to readers in need of busting a reading slump by kindling that excitement for literature.