Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Reading Like a Writer

I love reading about writing, so I couldn't resist the title: Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. Prose looks at a varied choice of work from the likes of Dickens, Emily Bronte, Flannery O'Conner and John le Carré, explaining their appeal and effect. Towards the end she reveals her passion for the short stories of Chekhov, and of the solace they brought to her during a tough time in her life, which involved a daily two hour commute:

(me paraphrasing slightly)
‘It was my ritual and reward. I never had to read a page or two before thinking that maybe things weren’t so bad. The stories were not only profound and beautiful, but also involving. I would finish one and find myself miraculously a half-hour or so closer to home, and yet there was more than distraction, a sense of comfort came over me. For thirty minutes I had been taken away and shown another world, a world full of sorrows, sorrows very different and yet very much like my own, and also a world full of promise. 
It made me empathise with the urban world around me, and see that nothing was wasted, maybe I could use all this one day. I felt as close to happiness as I was likely to come. This was the pleasure and mystery of reading. And some people think that books will disappear, they are still the best way of taking great art and all its consolations with us on a bus. 
His stories are illuminated with the deepest, broadest, at once compassionate and dispassionate, observation of life that I know. The most important thing is observation and consciousness. Keep your eyes open, think clearly, think about what you see, ask yourself what it means. The wider and deeper your observational range, the better, the more interesting and truthfully you will write.

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