Saturday, March 10, 2007

Reading Like a Writer

Poet and novelist, Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Boosk and for Those Who Want to Write Them is like taking a creative writing workshop at a fraction of the course. It's not an necessity for the aspiring author, but it does have value.

Prose begins with a chapter on Close Reading, which was featured in The Atlantic Monthly's 2006 Summer Fiction issue. Here Prose explains the virtue of slow, dilberate reading, something that does bear repeating in the age of multitasking. The book contains chapters on all the expected aspects of the novel: Words, Sentences, Paragraphs, Narration, Character, Dialog, Details, and the unexpected Gestures, Learning from Chekhov, and Reading for Courage. Hmmm. . . we seem to be missing something about plot. Yep, and seeing that most writers do struggle with plot, I see it as a shortcoming.

The book feels like office hours with a caring, knowledgeable creative writing teacher. Prose offers honest advice including the suggestion that breaking the rules is often okay, and probably something one should do, since all the best have. She includes lengthy selections from her favorite writers to illustrate her points. In fact, I think the best part of the book is her list of books to be read immediately.

Reading her chapter on details was eerie. She describes a story an unnamed friend told her about teaching a storytelling class at Eslan Institute in Big Sur. Clearly, the friend is Spaulding Gray, a favorite of mine. I've seen his films including Swimming To Cambodiaand monologues and Chicago's Goodman Theater. They all mesmerize.

As I read that chapter all the sadness of Gray's suicide returned. I remembered hearing the report of his disappearance as I drove to an interview with the Foreign Service one January morning. I remember the eventual report that he had drowned, succumbing to the depression and suicidal thought that plagued him, that he often discribed in his monologues.

I'd wanted to one day take his Eslan seminar. A lesson in one day v. carpe diem. I wonder why she didn't mention his name. His fans have heard the story about this workshop and the one-legged motivational speaker and like all his stories they won't forget it.

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