Reading Like a Writer: Reading Like a Writer 

Focused on how writers learn to write, here are a pair of interesting sentences. “They [writers] studied meter with Ovid, plot construction with Homer, comedy with Aristophanes; they honed their prose style by absorbing the lucid sentences of Montaigne and Samuel Johnson. And who could have asked for better teachers: generous, uncritical, blessed with wisdom and genius, and endlessly forgiving as only the dead can be?”

These sentences are from Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose, an excellent, excellent book.

What might we learn as writers from these sentences? The context they provide each other and contrast between them help make each of them even more interesting. They are almost from different genres: history and horror. (Undead teachers? Certainly frightening.) The end of the second sentence, at least for me, comes as a nice surprise.

Consider the structures of the sentences. The first is a list of specifics which acts as a kind of assertion about how writing has and can be learned: absorbing lucid sentence. The second is a generalization, followed by another list of characteristics, and a surprise.

I want to try at least the structures. “We baked with Julia, fried with Guy, boiled with Gordon; we learned about food in the graceful kitchens of Rachel Ray and Anthony Bourdain. And could there be better meals: ample, beautiful, favored with flavor and skill, and as free of calories as only the televised can be?”

It’s a bit more of a pastiche than I’d like, not sure about the tone, and probably reveals how little I know about cooking, but does suggest how useful attending to sentences can be.

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