Monday, May 7, 2012

Book Review: Reading Like a Writer

The title of this book jumped out at me because I've always believed that the best way to learn proper grammar and writing skills is through the action of reading good literature.  I'm not a big fan of studying grammar.  I hated teaching it in school so much that I resorted to having the students break the task into sections and teach it to their classmates through colorful visual aids, short quizzes and imaginative games.  They had more fun learning this way and I cleverly avoided the monotony of teaching the rules of writing.

I should also admit that grammar is not my greatest strength.  My husband has a far more solid grasp of grammar than I do.  But, what I do know, I'm sure I learned through reading.

Thus, you'd think I would have enjoyed this writing book more than I actually did.  Alas, it wasn't my favorite instructional book on writing.  Of course, given the title, it is supposed to be about reading intentionally.  I get that.    But the sub-title suggested it would be appropriate for me: "A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them."  It still was a difficult read.  I found myself skimming through the examples of outstanding writing.  The examples just weren't interesting enough to hold me.

I suppose, despite a sympathetic view on reading intentionally, I still failed to appreciate her suggestions.  At the beginning, she spent two or three chapters encouraging writers to read great writers and pick apart the text, word by word, to determine its greatness.  To me, really great writing is the writing where you forget there is a writer because you are so engrossed and pulled into the story that you feel you are living it.  She compares intentional reading to the role of a mechanic taking apart an engine.  I find this nit-picking.  Instead of zoning in on minute words, I want the words to carry me into the larger picture so I don't even recognize that words are flowing by.

The author never references popular fiction, but only literary fiction.  It felt similar to what happens sometimes with Christians.  They attempt to be so super-spiritual, above the realm of others, that they lose their ability to really speak and change the masses.  Others have coined the phrase, "too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly good."  I'd rather be closer to the literature of the common man than that of the literati.  I'd rather focus on what is said as a whole, rather than how it is said.  The examples used seemed boring rather than beautiful.

Now, I know that I'm not the best writer in the world.  And I know I have far more to learn about honing my own writing skills.  Indeed, my reluctance to accept the suggestions in this book is probably due to the fact that I'm not a better writer than I am.  I will try to put these suggestions to use.  I will try to narrow my focus and take more care in determining why a book is good literature.  I just don't think I'm ready to chuck popular fiction and focus entirely on classical literature or literary fiction.

No comments: