What to Read and Why

Francine Prose. Harper, $23.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-239786-7
With characteristic elegance, literary critic and novelist Prose (Mister Monkey) passionately pushes great books and good writing in a wide-ranging assemblage of previously published and new essays. Her thesis is simple: “What I am writing about here are the reasons why we continue to read great books, and why we continue to care.” Prose’s subjects include acclaimed novels, both old and new, from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach; short story writers such as Mavis Gallant and Elizabeth Taylor; and works of fiction by authors not primarily known as fiction writers, such as poet Mark Strand and photographer Diane Arbus. In one of the previously published essays, “Complimentary Toilet Paper: Some Thoughts on Character and Language,” a close reading of John Cheever’s story “Goodbye, My Brother” reveals how it subtly “layers the language of class, race, region, and unintentional self-revelation” beneath the narrator’s self-aggrandizing words. In a new essay, “On Clarity,” Prose cites models of clear writing from Dickens, the U.S. Constitution, and Camus that reveal clarity as not just a “literary quality but a spiritual one, involving, as it does, compassion for the reader.” Prose’s stimulating collection of essays will move readers to pick up, for the first or the 15th time, the books she so enthusiastically recommends. (July)
Reviewed on: 03/12/2018
Release date: 07/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-06-284843-7
Ebook - 288 pages - 978-0-06-239788-1
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