What to Read and Why

What to Read and Why

by Francine Prose


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In this brilliant collection, the follow-up to her New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer, the distinguished novelist, literary critic, and essayist celebrates the pleasures of reading and pays homage to the works and writers she admires above all others, from Jane Austen and Charles Dickens to Jennifer Egan and Roberto Bolaño.

In an age defined by hyper-connectivity and constant stimulation, Francine Prose makes a compelling case for the solitary act of reading and the great enjoyment it brings. Inspiring and illuminating, What to Read and Why includes selections culled from Prose’s previous essays, reviews, and introductions, combined with new, never-before-published pieces that focus on her favorite works of fiction and nonfiction, on works by masters of the short story, and even on books by photographers like Diane Arbus.

Prose considers why the works of literary masters such as Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Jane Austen have endured, and shares intriguing insights about modern authors whose words stimulate our minds and enlarge our lives, including Roberto Bolaño, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Jennifer Egan, and Mohsin Hamid. Prose implores us to read Mavis Gallant for her marvelously rich and compact sentences, and her meticulously rendered characters who reveal our flawed and complex human nature; Edward St. Aubyn for his elegance and sophisticated humor; and Mark Strand for his gift for depicting unlikely transformations. Here, too, are original pieces in which Prose explores the craft of writing: "On Clarity" and "What Makes a Short Story."

Written with her sharp critical analysis, wit, and enthusiasm, What to Read and Why is a celebration of literature that will give readers a new appreciation for the power and beauty of the written word.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062397867
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/03/2018
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Francine Prose is the author of twenty-one works of fiction including, the highly acclaimed Mister Monkey; the New York Times bestseller Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932; A Changed Man, which won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize; and Blue Angel, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her works of nonfiction include the highly praised Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer, which has become a classic. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim and a Fulbright, a Director’s Fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, Prose is a former president of PEN American Center, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  She is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at Bard College.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

April 1, 1947

Place of Birth:

Brooklyn, New York


B.A., Radcliffe College, 1968

Table of Contents

Author's Note xiii

Introduction xv

1 Ten Things That Art Can Do 1

2 Mary Shelley, Frankenstein 15

3 Charles Dickens, Great Expectations 28

4 Honoré de Balzac, Cousin Bette 41

5 George Eliot, Middlemarch 48

6 George Gissing, New Grub Street 63

7 The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant 70

8 Roberto Bolano, 2666 82

9 Complimentary Toilet Paper: Some Thoughts on Character and Language-Michael Jeffrey Lee, George Saunders, John Cheever, Denis Johnson 95

10 Edward St. Aubyn, The Patrick Melrose Novels 110

11 Paul Bowles, The Stories of Paul Bowles and The Spider's House 117

12 Patrick Hamilton, Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky: A London Trilogy; The Slaves of Solitude; Hangover Square; A Story of Darkest Earl's Court 124

13 Isaac Babel 137

14 Lolita, Just the Dirty Parts: On the Erotic and Pornographic 142

15 Gitta Sereny, Cries Unheard 152

16 Andrea Canobbio, Three Light-Years 160

17 Diane Arbus: Revelations 171

18 Helen Levitt, Crosstown 183

19 Mark Strand, Mr. and Mrs. Baby 190

20 Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle 195

21 Elizabeth Taylor, Complete Short Stories 206

22 Louisa May Alcott, Little Women 210

23 Jane Austen 214

24 Charles Baxter, Believers 221

25 Deborah Levy, Swimming Home 225

26 Alice Munro, Lives of Girls and Women 229

27 Jennifer Egan, Manhattan Beach 234

28 Rebecca West 243

29 Mohsin Hamid, Exit West 248

30 On Clarity 257

31 Reiner Stach, Is That Kafka? 99 Finds 277

32 What Makes a Short Story? 288

33 In Praise of Stanley Elkin 300

Permissions 313

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