Reading to get better at reading
September 23, 2022 8:22 AM   Subscribe

I read a lot of books and watch a lot of movies, and one of the things I've realized is that I've developed a decent layperson's understanding of "what makes this movie work, shot-to-shot," but I don't have that for books. I'll read two fairly similar genre books, for example, and one of them will absolutely click for me and the other won't, but I don't feel like I have a vocabulary for describing what it is that makes the writing in one of them "better" than the other. I would like to read some books that will help me develop a better ear for prose, give me tools for talking about what I like and don't like, and help me feel like I can appreciate what a writer is doing in more detail. I'd be up for education through other media as well, but it feels right to read about reading.
posted by Four String Riot to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
"How Fiction Works" by James Wood is quite good. There are a few others I can think of but most of them are targeted at the writer rather than the reader - John Gardner's "The Art of Fiction" has the best discussion of prose rhythms and sentence structure I've read.
posted by Jeanne at 8:27 AM on September 23, 2022 [4 favorites]

Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer explains exactly this -- an excellent book.
posted by heavenknows at 8:50 AM on September 23, 2022

Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark is pretty good for this, I think.
posted by wesleyac at 9:03 AM on September 23, 2022

Stephen King's On Writing might help to give you some of that vocabulary - it's definitely more of a "one (phenomenally prolific and successful) writer's take on what makes good writing" book than a treatise on literary criticism, but you might find the way he talks about writing and reading interesting.
posted by quatsch at 9:40 AM on September 23, 2022

"How Fiction Works" by James Wood is quite good.

I'd like to second the Wood. I read this about 12 years ago and it stuck with me. I've often relied on the tools it provided for understanding and making explicit the workings of fictional craft. Short book, too!
posted by grobstein at 10:09 AM on September 23, 2022

I'm a big fan of Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular by a guy named Rust Hills, who was Esquire's fiction editor in the 50s and 60s. Lots of really brief (sometimes a page or two) essays about what makes stories work or not work. The Gardner and Wood books are good too.
posted by Polycarp at 10:21 AM on September 23, 2022

Read interviews with authors you like. Super interesting.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:20 AM on September 23, 2022

Read interviews with authors you like

Specifically, the Art of Fiction series from the Paris Review, if you like any of the authors interviewed there.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:30 AM on September 23, 2022

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders is excellent!
Thirding The Art of Fiction
posted by lloquat at 2:26 PM on September 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Samuel Delany’s “About Writing” has some really good stuff in it.
Among other things, there’s a very deep chapter about plot and structure and the relationship between them, and a fairly ranty bit about what to read to experience good prose.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 8:34 PM on September 23, 2022

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