Readers’ Workshop: Why You Should Read Fiction Word-By-Word
Have you ever struggled with describing exactly why you like or dislike a book? Maybe you enjoyed the plot, related to the characters, but for some reason you wouldn’t recommend it to others.
I’ve had this problem for a long time. Usually my response would be, “well, the writing isn’t great.” But what did I mean by that? What made the writing mediocre?
Then I read Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer and suddenly I had the knowledge and tools to notice a beautifully crafted sentence, natural dialogue, and unforgettable details. The main idea is to read slowly and closely—word by word. When we read for plot we can just fly through a book, but Prose advocates reading analytically by paying attention to style, detail, dialogue, diction and how sentences were formed and information conveyed.
Because this book made such an impact on my reading, I am leading a book club called Readers’ Workshop throughout 2017. It’s held the second Thursday of every month (except December) at 7 p.m. at the Curious Iguana bookstore in Frederick, MD.
We are using Reading Like a Writer as a reference guide and we’ll read one chapter a month as well as a work of fiction. We’ve only met once so far, and already I’ve learned a lot from the participants. So I am planning to write blog posts summarizing some of the discoveries we make as a group.
This past Thursday we read the chapter on the importance of words (Chapter 2) and Alice Munro’s short story collection, Moons of Jupiter.
Prose describes Munro’s writing as plain, sparse and Spartan. Although it seems effortless, every word “challenges you to think of a more direct, less fussy way to say what she’s saying.”
The club members agreed with Prose’s characterization and pointed out that despite the fact that she uses such plain language and short sentences, the stories are very complicated and dense and tackle difficult subjects like psychological abuse.
One person pointed out that Munro has a lot of respect for her readers—she trusts that we’ll be able to figure out the meaning and depth in her stories.
Another member said that her writing is almost as sparse and spare as poetry, but that she has a precision that is exact. We may not have loved every story in the collection, but we could all agree that you are rewarded when you slow down and pay attention to Alice Munro’s language.