It occurred to me, while reading this book, that I never took a college-level literature class. This seems odd, given my bookish ways, particularly before college and grad school when reading for class became so overwhelming that reading for pleasure was pushed aside. In retrospect, it’s very odd I never chose to take even a basic literature class my freshman or sophomore year.
However, whatever was missing by not having that experience has been gained, perhaps in an even more worthwhile way, by reading Prose’s book. Her appreciation for the written word seeps off the pages and into your skin, your mind, your soul. I had to stop reading her several times to go read a work of fiction just so I could appreciate her appreciation in action.
Her book breaks down writing and reading to it’s most basic elements: words, sentences, paragraphs all the way to dialogue, gesture etc. A good majority of the time, she uses passages from classics and great works to demonstrate her points – and there are many, many of these examples throughout the book. However, do not be fooled, Prose herself is an amazing writer. Anyone that thought a book that might be assigned in a literature class would be dry, dull, and drag on, need only read a chapter or two of Prose to realize how the written word can be so spectacularly artful.
My favorite thing about this book was the way it made me want to read and write even more. It helped to stoke a growing fire inside me to explore this creative part of myself. To read for more than just the story – to read for the art. To write for more than just the plot and characters, but for the release, the creation.
Prose closes the book with some “suggested” reading. A list entitled “Books to be Read Immediately.” Subtle. Most of them are the books we all say we’ll read one day, to try to become more well-read. However, a quick read of Prose’s book gives you an insight into many of those works, and appreciation for their contribution, not just to literature, but to culture and civilization. I plan to pick at least 1-2 of these per year (if not more) to read. In fact, I’ve already got some Chekhov short stories on my Kindle.
Prose’s book is one I am sure I will go back to time and again, one in which I wrote in the margins, underlined, dog-eared. If you want to gain a deeper appreciation for what you’re reading, or understand what truly makes the greatest written works the greatest, I strongly recommend this book.