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.
You’ve got to read this new book by Francine Prose – and here’s why. The woman knows whereof she speaks ... Prose’s brain is no ordinary brain; her passion for the arts primarily but not exclusively literature – is no ordinary passion ... In each chapter, Prose curates her curation, telling us not only which books and authors to look at, but where in each of them to look for the choicest, most telling views ... Like the works it profiles, What to Read and Why has its flaws. Although most of her commentary is stunningly original, Prose sometimes tells us things we already know ... And like the works it profiles, What to Read and Why is a multi-faceted gem, appreciable on many levels.
The title of Francine Prose’s new essay collection is a bit dishonest. Or let’s say, perhaps, that it doesn’t quite constitute truth in advertising. When I picked up the book I optimistically assumed that it would be Ms. Prose’s personal manifesto: a simple account of which books she loves most, and why. But soon enough it proved to be just another critic’s collection of previously published articles, reviews, and introductions to reprints of classics, yoked together in a slightly artificial manner for publication in book form.
It would be surprising if the reading list of anyone who picks up novelist, critic and professor Francine Prose’s What to Read and Why doesn’t instantly grow exponentially ... Traversing more than a century and a half of literature, from the works of Dickens, Eliot and Balzac to the recent works of Jennifer Egan, Mohsin Hamid and Karl Ove Knausgaard, Prose’s book offers a generous serving of her wide-ranging literary enthusiasms ... What to Read and Why is a collection of love letters to the art of literature. The only impediment to devouring this book is the persistent urge to trade it for the work of one of the writers Prose so avidly praises.