The Literary Horizon: Understanding Comics, Reading Like a Writer

At the moment, I’m taking a film class—and it counts towards my English Literature major! Ha! But I think I would have taken it even if it didn’t. While I’ve absorbed enough about film to talk about them, I’ve never actually been taught the basics of analyzing film. I think of it as a toolkit that I’ve been collecting haphazardly over the years, except now I’m getting a whole one and I know what each thing does. Today’s selections from my list do the same thing—providing a toolkit for certain mediums.

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud

Praised throughout the cartoon industry by such luminaries as Art Spiegelman, Matt Groening, and Will Eisner, this innovative comic book provides a detailed look at the history, meaning, and art of comics and cartooning.

via Amazon

I have promised myself that I won’t read any more graphic novels until I read this. I’m just missing the right tools to examine them properly, and everywhere I turn, this book seems to be the way to go.

Nicki at Fyrefly’s Book Blog enjoyed it—although she found it a bit dense at points, she also found herself wanting to re-examine every graphic novel she’s read afterwards. Ana at things mean a lot absolutely loved it, pointing out it deals with the problematic nature of labeling good comics as “graphic novels”, which denigrates comics as a whole.

Understanding Comics was published in 1993.

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

Long before there were creative-writing workshops and degrees, how did aspiring writers learn to write? By reading the work of their predecessors and contemporaries, says Francine Prose.

In Reading Like a Writer, Prose invites you to sit by her side and take a guided tour of the tools and the tricks of the masters. She reads the work of the very best writers—Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Kafka, Austen, Dickens, Woolf, Chekhov—and discovers why their work has endured. She takes pleasure in the long and magnificent sentences of Philip Roth and the breathtaking paragraphs of Isaac Babel; she is deeply moved by the brilliant characterization in George Eliot’s Middlemarch. She looks to John Le Carré for a lesson in how to advance plot through dialogue, to Flannery O’Connor for the cunning use of the telling detail, and to James Joyce and Katherine Mansfield for clever examples of how to employ gesture to create character. She cautions readers to slow down and pay attention to words, the raw material out of which literature is crafted.

Written with passion, humor, and wisdom, Reading Like a Writer will inspire readers to return to literature with a fresh eye and an eager heart.

via Amazon

You might wonder why this is on my reading list, but hey, refreshers are nice and I need something to hand out to people who ask hideous questions like “But aren’t you going to just find stuff that’s not there?” about literary criticism. (That is an actual question I’ve heard. In class. Lord, give me patience.) Also, sometimes my reading list is like an undiscovered (or forgotten) country; there’s books I don’t even remember putting on there. It may have ended up there because a woman named Prose is writing about prose.

Teresa at Shelf Love particularly loved it, even if she disagreed with Prose on certain points. Rebecca at Rebecca Reads also thoroughly enjoyed it.

Reading Like a Writer was published on April 10, 2007.

6 thoughts on “The Literary Horizon: Understanding Comics, Reading Like a Writer

  1. Oh, I can’t wait to hear what you think of the McCloud! He’s also written several follow-ups, which I keep meaning to get my hands on. Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics is another excellent source if you want to learn more about comics criticism.

  2. I did really enjoy Understanding Comics, and while I still read comics more for enjoyment rather than analytically, at least now I have a better vocabulary to talk about what I liked or didn’t about a particular comic. I bought the sequel for my dad for Christmas a few years ago but still haven’t stolen it from him and read it… maybe over the holidays!

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