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The Art of X-Ray Reading

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Roy Peter Clark, one of America's most influential writing teachers, offers writing lessons we can draw from 25 great texts. Where do writers learn their best moves? They use a technique that Roy Peter Clark calls X-ray reading, a form of reading that lets you penetrate beyond the surface of a text to see how meaning is actually being made. In THE ART OF X-RAY READING, Clar Roy Peter Clark, one of America's most influential writing teachers, offers writing lessons we can draw from 25 great texts. Where do writers learn their best moves? They use a technique that Roy Peter Clark calls X-ray reading, a form of reading that lets you penetrate beyond the surface of a text to see how meaning is actually being made. In THE ART OF X-RAY READING, Clark invites you to don your X-ray reading glasses and join him on a guided tour through some of the most exquisite and masterful literary works of all time, from The Great Gatsby to Lolita to The Bluest Eye, and many more. Along the way, he shows you how to mine these masterpieces for invaluable writing strategies that you can add to your arsenal and apply in your own writing. Once you've experienced X-ray reading, your writing will never be the same again.


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Roy Peter Clark, one of America's most influential writing teachers, offers writing lessons we can draw from 25 great texts. Where do writers learn their best moves? They use a technique that Roy Peter Clark calls X-ray reading, a form of reading that lets you penetrate beyond the surface of a text to see how meaning is actually being made. In THE ART OF X-RAY READING, Clar Roy Peter Clark, one of America's most influential writing teachers, offers writing lessons we can draw from 25 great texts. Where do writers learn their best moves? They use a technique that Roy Peter Clark calls X-ray reading, a form of reading that lets you penetrate beyond the surface of a text to see how meaning is actually being made. In THE ART OF X-RAY READING, Clark invites you to don your X-ray reading glasses and join him on a guided tour through some of the most exquisite and masterful literary works of all time, from The Great Gatsby to Lolita to The Bluest Eye, and many more. Along the way, he shows you how to mine these masterpieces for invaluable writing strategies that you can add to your arsenal and apply in your own writing. Once you've experienced X-ray reading, your writing will never be the same again.

30 review for The Art of X-Ray Reading

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Baker

    I’m a voracious reader, but this book made me feel like I’ve never truly read a book. I mean that in the most complimentary way. I didn’t realize how much I was missing when I read, until I read this book. It’s a very eye-opening experience that lead to many aha moments and a ton of "OMG, I can't believe I missed that!" moments. Each chapter focuses on a specific work and at the end of each chapter is a writing lesson. These lessons are the key elements that the reader should take away from that I’m a voracious reader, but this book made me feel like I’ve never truly read a book. I mean that in the most complimentary way. I didn’t realize how much I was missing when I read, until I read this book. It’s a very eye-opening experience that lead to many aha moments and a ton of "OMG, I can't believe I missed that!" moments. Each chapter focuses on a specific work and at the end of each chapter is a writing lesson. These lessons are the key elements that the reader should take away from that chapter. At the end of the book is a section called “Great Sentences From Famous Authors” and this is a chance to practice your new x-ray reading skills. Following this exercise are the “Twelve Steps to Get Started As An X-Ray Reader” which is a good reference to help new x-ray readers begin reading on a whole new level. Out of the 25 works mentioned in this book, I’ve only read about half of them. Now that I have a new pair of x-ray reading glasses on, I want to reread these (as well as some of the others) with fresh eyes. I love The Great Gatsby, but wow, did I miss a lot! I missed the themes and symbolism, especially. I’m a Charles Dickens fan and I read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, but somehow I missed her parallel to A Christmas Carol. How in the world did I miss that? (I knew the concept of intertextuality, but I didn’t know that’s what it was called.) I love it when I notice it in literature, but I’m sure there are many times when it slips by me unnoticed. One of the most eye-opening experiences was the chapter about Hemingway. Although I never read A Farewell to Arms, I did read The Sun Also Rises. I was very disappointed in it, so I gave it a low two-star rating. I noticed it received a lot of high ratings and I couldn’t understand why. I wasn’t fond of his terse prose and Hemingway fans are always saying that if you don’t like Hemingway, then you don’t understand him. I thought they were just being pretentious snobs, but after reading The Art of X-Ray Reading, I realize that I truly didn’t understand Hemingway. I missed his rhythm and his intentional repetition and omission of words. I was too busy reading on the level of the story that I wasn’t reading it on the level of the text. This is one of those books that you’ll not only want to add to your home library, especially aspiring writers, but also a book that you’ll want to read more than once. I checked this book out at my local library, but I already know that I’ll be buying it, rereading it and write in it. I want to absorb everything Roy Peter Clark teaches in this book (and his other books) and internalize it completely. I highly recommend this book to avid readers and aspiring writers.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Laure

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book - Surprisingly, it was a quick read. I had read most of the 'advice' distilled throughout the book before, but the best part of the book, in my opinion, was the discussion of the literary texts themselves. I only have a few quibbles about the views expressed in the chapter on 'sex'. Not sure if I adhere totally to R.P. Clark's definition of erotica - we, the readers, were treated to an extract of 'Fifty Shades of Grey', which is not the best prose ever writ I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book - Surprisingly, it was a quick read. I had read most of the 'advice' distilled throughout the book before, but the best part of the book, in my opinion, was the discussion of the literary texts themselves. I only have a few quibbles about the views expressed in the chapter on 'sex'. Not sure if I adhere totally to R.P. Clark's definition of erotica - we, the readers, were treated to an extract of 'Fifty Shades of Grey', which is not the best prose ever written, let's face it. Where I disagree is that the treatment of the subject matter was derided too. As opposed to 'Fifty', then was juxtaposed another text describing a metaphorical sexual experience involving bees, flowers and spring. As pretty and sensual the passage was it did not even flush my cheeks. It felt somewhat like: 'and now, this is how a proper lady writer should write'. I think I might be making too much of it - the rest of the book was very informative, and I would recommend its reading to any would be writer. In fact, I am going to make a quick cheklist for myself of all the points mentioned in the book. Superior procrastination. :D

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tara Brabazon

    Absolutely fascinating. This book configures a new model of reading. Described as 'x-ray reading,' this mode of reading offers a way to look at 'the great texts' and learn about vocabulary, sentence structure, paragraphing, plot and resolutions. This is a fine book that probes 'the great texts.' Yes - it is Eurocentric and high cultural. Also, the commentary offered is not generalizable to non fictional works. But this is innovative and - obviously - incredibly well written. Absolutely fascinating. This book configures a new model of reading. Described as 'x-ray reading,' this mode of reading offers a way to look at 'the great texts' and learn about vocabulary, sentence structure, paragraphing, plot and resolutions. This is a fine book that probes 'the great texts.' Yes - it is Eurocentric and high cultural. Also, the commentary offered is not generalizable to non fictional works. But this is innovative and - obviously - incredibly well written.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lori Tian Sailiata

    I'm a longtime Clark fan, and this didn't disappoint. I recommend it highly for serious readers and writers alike. I'm a longtime Clark fan, and this didn't disappoint. I recommend it highly for serious readers and writers alike.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    The old professor stands in front of class silently waiting. When the second hand sweeps the hour, he closes his eyes and begins. He prattles on about his favorite books, all written long before you, and even he was born, while the class sits, nodding and enraptured by his wisdom. Occasionally, he might open his eyes and blow the dust off his curled copy of The Great Gatsby in order to count for you the number of "and"s and "the"s contained in the passages that make him clutch the book to his ch The old professor stands in front of class silently waiting. When the second hand sweeps the hour, he closes his eyes and begins. He prattles on about his favorite books, all written long before you, and even he was born, while the class sits, nodding and enraptured by his wisdom. Occasionally, he might open his eyes and blow the dust off his curled copy of The Great Gatsby in order to count for you the number of "and"s and "the"s contained in the passages that make him clutch the book to his chest on a regular basis. The class is in awe. And you feel like you've landed on a foreign planet because all you hear is Charlie Brown's teacher groaning waah wa wahhh wah wahhhh. Are you too stupid to get this? Is this the right course? Is this one of those hidden camera shows? You have no idea. But as soon as you can get out the door, you drop the class. This book was that class except I unexpectedly would blurt out comments like "god, I hate this book" or why am I wasting my time with this" or more often than not, "Oh fuck you, book." Sometimes, I don't like a book. I average a book a week, so it's bound to happen. I try to give even the bad ones a chance and often read it the whole way through. this was not one of those books. By page 20, Clark spends a full page debating Fitzgerald's use of the word ogastic vs. orgiastic, debating the merits of both and the history behind that particular word choice. He does it to share how positively fascinating it is...or maybe just to show how much more superior his knowledge of literary minutiae is than yours. If that sounds like something you're into, this is the book for you. If not, there are better books out there with more information and less of a musty smell. Let me say this: I rarely hate books as much as I hated this book. I bulldozed 170 pages through this one before giving up. I'm at a loss for words. Fuck this book. The only reason that I can think of to read this book is if it is assigned by Clark himself in order to pass his class. Skip both and transfer out.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    This was a fun book that took me back a tiny bit to my English Lit days. Clark examines a number of classic novels and picks 1 or 2 tools that the authors use to create an effective paragraph, or effective beginning and end, more on the side of the actual mechanics of writing, where I would have wished for a closer examination of themes in the novels. I probably would have gotten more out of it if I was interested in writing, but that being said, it did make me appreciate the genius of an amazin This was a fun book that took me back a tiny bit to my English Lit days. Clark examines a number of classic novels and picks 1 or 2 tools that the authors use to create an effective paragraph, or effective beginning and end, more on the side of the actual mechanics of writing, where I would have wished for a closer examination of themes in the novels. I probably would have gotten more out of it if I was interested in writing, but that being said, it did make me appreciate the genius of an amazing writer, and appreciate slowing down to really consider what really attracts me in a good piece of writing.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Amy McCathran

    I will absolutely use this book as a resource for my AP Lit. class. Clark gears the book as a guide for teaching writing using great literature such as The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, and To Kill a Mockingbird, but it’s so much more than that. It’s also a guide for close reading exercises and helps to show a reader subtle nuisances in a text that they might ignore if they weren’t looking at it through his “x-ray reading lenses.” The first chapter on The Great Gatsby is amazing and taught I will absolutely use this book as a resource for my AP Lit. class. Clark gears the book as a guide for teaching writing using great literature such as The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, and To Kill a Mockingbird, but it’s so much more than that. It’s also a guide for close reading exercises and helps to show a reader subtle nuisances in a text that they might ignore if they weren’t looking at it through his “x-ray reading lenses.” The first chapter on The Great Gatsby is amazing and taught me so much about a text I’ve read countless times. This is a great resources for literature and writing teachers.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Erik Rostad

    I wish I had read this many years ago. This is a book about how to mine the treasures out of literature. It's a call to slow down. To not view the book simply in its entirety, as something to be completed, but rather word by word. The Art of X-Ray Reading covers small sections of 25+ pieces of literature (and some non-fiction) and pulls out beauty word by word, sentence by sentence. At the very end, Roy Peter Clark highlights some of the best sentences ever and places them on one page for you to I wish I had read this many years ago. This is a book about how to mine the treasures out of literature. It's a call to slow down. To not view the book simply in its entirety, as something to be completed, but rather word by word. The Art of X-Ray Reading covers small sections of 25+ pieces of literature (and some non-fiction) and pulls out beauty word by word, sentence by sentence. At the very end, Roy Peter Clark highlights some of the best sentences ever and places them on one page for you to read and make notes before reading his thoughts on the next page. I loved everything about this book. It's touted as a book to "improve your writing" but I read it to improve my reading. It delivered.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cyndi

    This is a useful book for an aspiring writer. It teaches how to look into the works of other authors and see their methods. But, towards the end it became repetitive.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Charli Mills

    A must-read for the serious writer. We know the adage to read, read, read but this book gives writers access to their superpowers -- the ability to read as a writer.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    I really enjoyed this book. I must admit, I skimmed some chapters, especially if I was not familiar with the writing he was demonstrating. But I had read most of the books that were discussed. I loved delving deeper into the writing and the different ways the authors convey their message.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sylvester

    I do love a book that praises great writing and shows you exactly why it's great. Clark goes through a good whack of authors I admire - including M.F.K. Fisher ("How To Cook a Wolf" - a favourite of mine). Cookbooks can be good literature too. I do love a book that praises great writing and shows you exactly why it's great. Clark goes through a good whack of authors I admire - including M.F.K. Fisher ("How To Cook a Wolf" - a favourite of mine). Cookbooks can be good literature too.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Stienberg

    This wasn’t the best book, but it was fairly refreshing. I’ve read many of the books referenced in the text, so it was a fairly interesting time spent looking closer for details I’ve missed in the past. Mostly, however, this book covers a lot of what a university English class covers. I’ll be honest, I only picked it up because it referenced Shirley Jackson and Sylvia Plath, two of my favorite writers. I don’t think this book will make you a better reader or writer, but it does pose a few intere This wasn’t the best book, but it was fairly refreshing. I’ve read many of the books referenced in the text, so it was a fairly interesting time spent looking closer for details I’ve missed in the past. Mostly, however, this book covers a lot of what a university English class covers. I’ll be honest, I only picked it up because it referenced Shirley Jackson and Sylvia Plath, two of my favorite writers. I don’t think this book will make you a better reader or writer, but it does pose a few interesting elements to how we perceive opening lines, and how deep writing can go. This book will help me for future assignments in my Professional Writing program, but I’m doubtful it’ll have any further long arching elements to my writing.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    I'm torn, but I'm also really glad I read this. Here, from page 49 of my copy: Repetition is different from redundancy. Don't strain yourself looking for synonyms... Think of repetition as a drumbeat. Somehow, a marching drummer can repeat a rhythm countless times without making it sound tedious. After a while, the rhythm becomes unnoticeable, almost like a heartbeat. But it must be done for effect and with a purpose. Beware of those times when you unintentionally repeat a word or image. Readers I'm torn, but I'm also really glad I read this. Here, from page 49 of my copy: Repetition is different from redundancy. Don't strain yourself looking for synonyms... Think of repetition as a drumbeat. Somehow, a marching drummer can repeat a rhythm countless times without making it sound tedious. After a while, the rhythm becomes unnoticeable, almost like a heartbeat. But it must be done for effect and with a purpose. Beware of those times when you unintentionally repeat a word or image. Readers will judge you as inattentive.Essentially, this book teaches analysis. It argues for very close readings of famous texts - very close; at one point Clark points out the omitting of the word "the" prior to "leaves" in a paragraph by Hemingway, and how that omission acts as a spotlight on that particular instance of the word "leaves." And yet this isn't "How to Analyze for Dummies." This is ferociously intelligent stuff. In college, I wrote a paper describing Roth's Goodbye, Columbus as an "anti-Jewish Jewish novel." I could say something similar about Joyce's narrative on Irish Catholicism and Rushdie's view of Islam in The Satanic Verses, for which he received officially sanctioned threats of assassination. But it would surprise me if Joyce built his work on allusions connected with Islam or if Roth's work depended on the sacramental language of Christianity. There is instead an identifiable collection of words - the Anglo-Saxon poets called it a word hoard (like a treasure chest) - drawn authentically from the experience of growing up in a certain cultural tradition. It must be said that such a language heritage is only influential and not determinative. It can be enhanced and enriched by education and travel. But it cannot be escaped. It should be embraced.This book simultaneously argues that writers are both deliberate and instinctive, and that certain techniques are universal because they're effective (whether deliberately done or not) which is something readers can spot when x-ray reading a work. I don't think there's a consistent theme to this work. Instead, Clark examines 25 different novels and points out key techniques. Some works suggest certain techniques; some works suggest contrasting ones - this is especially noticeable with regard to weather and setting reflecting the mood of the work. There are times when the close approach worked for me, mostly when looking closely at prose, where the analysis is verging on brilliant. There are times, particularly in the second half (where this work loses some momentum) when instead I was reminded of L'Engle's Newbery acceptance speech - And I’ll never forget going to the final exam and being asked why Chaucer used certain verbal devices, certain adjectives, why he had certain characters behave in certain ways. And I wrote in a white heat of fury, “I don’t think Chaucer had any idea why he did any of these things. That isn’t the way people write.” I believe this as strongly now as I did then. Most of what is best in writing isn’t done deliberately.Clark doesn't believe this, and he makes a strong case for devices and symbols that are deliberately used by authors. And there are times when he convinces me, too - a big deal, considering I love that L'Engle quote. And he ends off with a bang: [Intertextuality] is not a euphemism or rationalization for acts of plagiarism. It is, instead, a recognition that long before an adult author has written a first novel, she has read hundreds of others. From those readings she has learned not just the grammar of written language but also the grammar of stories. There are all kinds of ways, good and bad, that she will use this knowledge in her writing...Yes. This is an almost directionless piece of writing. It features disparate techniques and is organized only with the 25 works referenced in the subtitle. But there are flashes of insight that dazzled me, along with an appreciation for various types of books and reading, and a bone-deep (heh) certainty that a closer look at famous works reveals subtle brilliance. I appreciated that.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    Roy Peter Clark's tour de force lends superior critical analysis to some of your favorite literary classics, beginning with The Great Gatsby. His X-Ray vision is 20/20! A superior inclusion in this book is Clark's close reading of "Great Sentences from Famous Authors"--LOVE IT ALL from the first page until the last! Roy Peter Clark's tour de force lends superior critical analysis to some of your favorite literary classics, beginning with The Great Gatsby. His X-Ray vision is 20/20! A superior inclusion in this book is Clark's close reading of "Great Sentences from Famous Authors"--LOVE IT ALL from the first page until the last!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    This is a learn how to read so you can write book. I actually listened to this book on audible and had a hard time getting into at first, but once into it I enjoyed the insights and the details of the books that Mr. Clark expounds on. I will never read the same and I will have a great time rereading several of my favorite books.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Paul LaFontaine

    Writers can study how to craft language by closely studying the strategy great writers used to create remarkable impacts on their readers. Clark calls this X-Ray Reading. For anyone interested in being a better writer, or reader, can't be better served than to read this book. Well written, interesting and at times astonishing. Excellent book. Highly recommend. Writers can study how to craft language by closely studying the strategy great writers used to create remarkable impacts on their readers. Clark calls this X-Ray Reading. For anyone interested in being a better writer, or reader, can't be better served than to read this book. Well written, interesting and at times astonishing. Excellent book. Highly recommend.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    I love this because it was just about books and sentences. I mean seriously, do I want to sit around reading about a bunch of passages from various works of literature and how the way the author chose to construct a sentence or use an adverb was life altering? Why yes I do want to read all about that, thanks very much.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa

    I love this book. Like a spotlight, it illuminated the author's marionette strings, but it only improved the show. I am eager to read the new works I've discovered herein. I think I'll be rereading this book too. I love this book. Like a spotlight, it illuminated the author's marionette strings, but it only improved the show. I am eager to read the new works I've discovered herein. I think I'll be rereading this book too.

  20. 4 out of 5

    reading is my hustle

    This was not so great.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bill W

    This book is a fascinating appreciation of and introduction to writing. So interesting and fun to read!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sylia

    Really changed the way I read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Escher

    An MFA in a book... I went to a college where Philosophy teachers stood on chairs punching the air with football cheers so that their Phys Ed students would remember something for the final exam. When exam time came, it was easy to know which question a student was answering as he punched the air: T-M-I-E-C-A-B. Easy: John Locke and the tabula rasa. You can imagine the Lit classes. I felt fortunate to read "The Web and the Rock" by Thomas Wolfe. At least I didn't have to punch the air, but empty An MFA in a book... I went to a college where Philosophy teachers stood on chairs punching the air with football cheers so that their Phys Ed students would remember something for the final exam. When exam time came, it was easy to know which question a student was answering as he punched the air: T-M-I-E-C-A-B. Easy: John Locke and the tabula rasa. You can imagine the Lit classes. I felt fortunate to read "The Web and the Rock" by Thomas Wolfe. At least I didn't have to punch the air, but empty air was a good description of the Lit program. Today I read and write many things. But "The Art of X-Ray Reading" brought authors within my reach for the first time. Joyce, Didion, Flaubert, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Yeats, and others I'd read but found impenetrable. If I were going to take a graduate course in Lit, I would read or listen to this book at least twice, then bring it along, like a "pony" to help me through the hard places. Other readers more sophisticated than I will see this book in a different way. But for me, this was an unexpected gift.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michael Brown

    They say that reading, lots of reading, is the best way to improve one’s writing and this book by Roy Peter Clark, one of the leading writing instructors of the age takes that advice a step further by zoning in on twenty-five great and near great works of literature and pointing out exactly how the various authors achieve their methods to give the aspiring artist subtle instruction in the art of fiction. Along the way Clark points out various methods and themes such as symbolism, mimesis, cathar They say that reading, lots of reading, is the best way to improve one’s writing and this book by Roy Peter Clark, one of the leading writing instructors of the age takes that advice a step further by zoning in on twenty-five great and near great works of literature and pointing out exactly how the various authors achieve their methods to give the aspiring artist subtle instruction in the art of fiction. Along the way Clark points out various methods and themes such as symbolism, mimesis, catharsis, defamiliarization, perspective, emphasis, tessellation, rhetoric and iconography, thematic implication, foreshadowing versus foreboding, purposeful misdirection, the pathetic fallacy, word order, euphony, and alliteration among other tropes evident in the works under review. Each work undergoes specific inspection followed by writing exercises to help in understanding what you’ve read and how to use in your own writing what you have learned. There is a sort of bonus section that focuses on a number of other sentences and paragraphs culled from influential titles to further research themes and connotations and see the ideas working in context. This is a highly recommended resource book that writers can turn to again and again.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Wendi Lau

    Clark’s marvelous writing instruction is muted by references to literature the reader may or may not have read. He includes source paragraphs and then x-ray analyzes them, but something was missing. Each chapter analyzed two books. The analysis was specific. I kept thinking, was he reading more into the poem or paragraph than the author intended? I felt like I was wearing horse blinders seeing only brief pieces of each work. Can this subject be taught well without at least a chapter for context? Clark’s marvelous writing instruction is muted by references to literature the reader may or may not have read. He includes source paragraphs and then x-ray analyzes them, but something was missing. Each chapter analyzed two books. The analysis was specific. I kept thinking, was he reading more into the poem or paragraph than the author intended? I felt like I was wearing horse blinders seeing only brief pieces of each work. Can this subject be taught well without at least a chapter for context? This hasn’t discouraged me from Clark’s other books. His easy, compelling style on writing is addictive. He had spoiled me away from less skilled writers on writing. “Glamour Grammar” is next!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

    For me, a literature geek and a writer, this was an interesting and entertaining book. Clark kept me engaged and moving forward. I'm glad to know that he has the same opinion of the 50 Shades of Gray series that I do. And one of the best points of humor occurs during this section. He has x-ray reading covers a wide variety of literature and I would think there is something for most everyone. For me, a literature geek and a writer, this was an interesting and entertaining book. Clark kept me engaged and moving forward. I'm glad to know that he has the same opinion of the 50 Shades of Gray series that I do. And one of the best points of humor occurs during this section. He has x-ray reading covers a wide variety of literature and I would think there is something for most everyone.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Williams

    Pretty good as writing books go. The love of the author for the works analyzed is clear. Audio book reader perfect.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bernie Gourley

    If one asks a group of people whether a story worked or not, one is likely to hear widespread agreement, but if one asks them why it worked [or didn’t,] one is likely to get a hodgepodge of murky conclusions. The average person will struggle to put together a coherent explanation for failed stories, an explanation which may or may not be grounded in paydirt. That’s because whether writing works or not is a matter of emotional resonance, and what delivers that emotional experience is almost as hi If one asks a group of people whether a story worked or not, one is likely to hear widespread agreement, but if one asks them why it worked [or didn’t,] one is likely to get a hodgepodge of murky conclusions. The average person will struggle to put together a coherent explanation for failed stories, an explanation which may or may not be grounded in paydirt. That’s because whether writing works or not is a matter of emotional resonance, and what delivers that emotional experience is almost as hidden as the pipes and wires in the walls that deliver water and electricity. Clark’s purpose with this book is to show the reader some of the characteristics they can read for, features which may not be readily apparent when one is lost in a good book, but which make the difference between a masterpiece and a ho-hum work. While I referred to “story” a lot in the preceding paragraph, it’s worth noting that Clark’s book does cover the gambit of creative writing activities – including a few poets, essayists, non-fiction authors, and repeated references to one very famous playwright. That said, the bulk of the works under discussion are fiction -- be it a novel, short story, epic poem, or play. The book consists of twenty-five chapters, and the subtitle is a little bit deceptive because not all of the chapters take a single work as a focal point. Each of the chapters has a core concept to convey, using one or more authors (and one or more of each writer’s works) to do so. Some of these lessons are at the level of language, such as Nabokov’s playfully poetic alliteration and assonance, Hemingway’s sparse prose, or Toni Morrison’s effective use of repetition. Other chapters explore how intrigue can be set up and sustained: such as in Shirley Jackson’s foreshadowing of the twist in her story “The Lottery,” or the way “Sir Gawain and the Green Night” turns a non-event into unexpected chills, or how Harper Lee uses the slowed experience of time to build tension. Still other chapters present techniques such as placing texts within the text as done in “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” zooming in or out with perspective as is done in Homer’s “Odyssey,” or Shakespeare’s rejection of conventions in his sonnets. Some chapters investigate how a tone is established such as in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism, and one other focuses on intertextuality – i.e. the borrowing of ideas from past masters in a non-plagiaristic sort of way. The authors and works selected are popular and will generally be a least familiar to avid readers of English language literature, and most readers will have read at least a few of the works under consideration. A few of my personal favorites were explored including Shakespeare, Yeats, and Hemingway, and I suspect that will be true of most readers. There was only one author of whom I had no knowledge, M.F.K. Fisher, a writer who is well-known to mid-twentieth century cookbook fans, but who is a little obscure today. Having said that, I did come away with an interest in reading the book under discussion – i.e. “How to Cook a Wolf.” While this book is marketed towards writers, I think any serious reader would find it an interesting and worthwhile read. If you want a better understanding of what succeeds in the world of writing, you should take a look at this book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ace

    TL;DR: Good basic writing book, but information is somewhat basic. I feel bad about only rating this three stars; in truth, I think this is only three stars for my level; if you are a high school or college student, or otherwise recently new to the fun that comes with close-reading and writing, this is a quality, four star book. But I found it hard to get through. Most of his close writing insights felt obvious to me, a voracious reader with an English degree. I was hoping his "X-RAY" reading tech TL;DR: Good basic writing book, but information is somewhat basic. I feel bad about only rating this three stars; in truth, I think this is only three stars for my level; if you are a high school or college student, or otherwise recently new to the fun that comes with close-reading and writing, this is a quality, four star book. But I found it hard to get through. Most of his close writing insights felt obvious to me, a voracious reader with an English degree. I was hoping his "X-RAY" reading technique would be more than a newer turn of phrase for "close reading," but it appears to simply be a regurgitation of this old and time honored technique. (That said, it works. I do believe the best writers are readers themselves! But of course I may be biased.) I feel very divided on this book. IT's not that it's //bad// perse; it's not. It's just often obvious (to me), things such as "test paragraphs to make sure they are built upon some logic" or "draw useful elements from influential texts" are less useful tips for anyone who isn't a novice at writing. I did enjoy the book's organization - organized into lessons, with each lesson being based on one or two works. I did feel //most// of the books are, unfortunately, a bit too in the hoary classic genre - Gawain and the Green Knight, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare - but there are a few decent modern examples (Hiroshama, Zora Noale Hurston) as well. It would make a good book for an introductory writing class, and I would use it as such.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mel

    Some good, useful writing instruction, but far too much authorial intrusion for my taste, and remarkably unfocused for a book called x-ray anything. Nearly every chapter claims to be about A but meanders around B, C, and D instead. I might be more forgiving if it covered fewer books and it had longer chapters, but as it stands, there are some chapters that barely cover their stated topics at all in favour of some completely different text. When he's on a book he genuinely likes and cares about, h Some good, useful writing instruction, but far too much authorial intrusion for my taste, and remarkably unfocused for a book called x-ray anything. Nearly every chapter claims to be about A but meanders around B, C, and D instead. I might be more forgiving if it covered fewer books and it had longer chapters, but as it stands, there are some chapters that barely cover their stated topics at all in favour of some completely different text. When he's on a book he genuinely likes and cares about, he's great, but otherwise it reads like he signed a contract based solely on his concept and then was like "Oh shit, man" when the time came to actually sit down and write. His chapter about Moby-Dick analyzes the phrase "Call me Ishmael," for God's sake. Finally, if I could turn back time, if I could find a way, I'd disguise myself as an angel, go to his house the night before he got started on this thing, pretend I'd come to him in a dream and say Lookit, dude, if all you really want to write about is The Great Gatsby, just fucking write about The Great Gatsby. There's no shame in that. You don't have to shoehorn it awkwardly into every single conversation like a besotted teenager. Me: What fantastic weather! Roy Peter Clark: The Great Gatsby has weather. Not everything is about The Great Gatsby, brah. I promise you that's true. Dang!

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