How to Read Like a Writer, by Dr Erin Pushman, is a 10-chapter exploration of the pillars of creative writing which discusses how, by reading like a writer, you can improve your own writing skills.
With some excellent tips imparted in an easy-to-digest manner, this is a solid primer for the budding writer on how to read in a more analytical way.
But the retail pricing of the book raises significant questions over what the commercial market for this book is.
How to Read Like a Writer
If you want to be a writer, you need to read more – according to conventional wisdom. You also need to ‘read like a writer’. But what exactly does this mean in practice?
Fortunately Erin Pushman has assembled a plethora of examples in this short but concise handbook.
It’s a practical text that discusses topics including ‘pace,’ ‘theme,’ and ‘setting’ in sufficient detail, before assigning the reader a handful of post-chapter writing activities. These chapters guide the reader with some excellent bite-size analyses of each area of writing whilst the activities are thought-provoking enough to help the reader retain the knowledge.
One issue How to Read Like a Writer has, however, is repetition. Pushman frequently uses the same passages from certain texts to illustrate that chapter’s particular lesson. For example, an identical extract from Zadie Smith’s The Embassy of Cambodia appears at least four times across the whole book.
Whilst familiarity with a text makes it easier to comprehend the argument, it does make for incredibly tedious reading. Assuming a basic level of comprehension on the reader’s behalf, and using more varied examples, would have been far more effective.
Regardless, How to Read Like a Writer does a fantastic job of presenting an array of writing styles. This is not simply a how-to guide on writing a 300-page literary fiction novel. Pushman explores fiction (both genre and literary), poetry in its various forms, creative nonfiction, memoir, and so much more.
There’s a remarkable breadth of writing examples on show, and this has to be commended.
Commercial vs Academic Readership
There is one glaring issue with How to Read Like a Writer – and that’s that it isn’t immediately clear who the audience for this book actually is.
On the one hand, it’s published by Bloomsbury Academic, and certainly priced like an academic textbook with an RRP of £19.99 for the paperback and an eye-watering £59.99 for the hardback. Plus, with a bevy of post-chapter activities, the book appears to be designed for formal creative writing classes.
But here’s the thing – if you’re an established writer, you probably won’t need this book.
On the other hand, an aspiring writer who doesn’t have access to a university library is unlikely to drop a significant amount of money just to read this book. Especially when Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer and Stephen King’s On Writing are available on the shelf for the price of a regular paperback.
Comparisons with Reading Like a Writer
Purely because of the near-identical title, it’s inevitable that Pushman’s book will be compared with the veritable monolith of creative writing 101, Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer.
What is apparent from the beginning is that Erin Pushman’s tone and writing style is far more approachable and open-minded to different kinds of writing. Whereas Prose’s book comes at writing from a purely literary stance (and frequently comes across as hostile towards genre fiction), Pushman embraces writing of all stripes.
That’s one of the great things about this book – it’s designed to elevate the writer, not tell them that they’ll never be James Joyce. It’s inviting, convivial, and encouraging for a budding writer – if you can afford it.
And herein lies the issue. This is a book commercially aimed at the more costly academic market, and yet the content is more aimed at creative writing beginners. Meanwhile, Prose’s book – an arguably more reliable academic text – can be picked up for under £10.
How to Read Like a Writer is a solid primer on teaching readers how to read like a writer. It breaks down the various aspects of writing into digestible chunks and includes some brilliant exercises to reinforce the lessons in each chapter.
But with the average reader priced out of the market and an academic writer not requiring a book to teach them how to read like a writer, who is How to Read Like a Writer actually aimed at? It’s not entirely apparent.
And yet, whilst it’s a little repetitive in parts, Pushman’s book is undoubtedly a useful point of reference for those looking to improve their writing craft.
Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.