Saturday, November 17, 2018

Book Review: 'The Art of X-Ray Reading' by Roy Peter Clark

Roy Peter Clark appreciates great literature. In “The Art of X-Ray Reading,” he shares his enthusiasm for beautifully worded passages from novels, short stories, non-fiction, and poetry. Clark urges us to read more deeply and thoughtfully--to discern the “moving parts, the strategies that create the effects we experience from the page—effects such as clarity, suspense, humor, epiphany, and pain.” Stimulating our minds and awakening our senses may enable us to understand and internalize the techniques that accomplished writers use to convey ideas and emotions memorably.

Clark uses selections from such luminaries as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Vladimir Nabokov, John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Zora Neale Hurston, William Butler Yeats, Toni Morrison, and Donna Tartt to illustrate how x-ray reading works. The author takes us on an enchanting and often thrilling journey. His well-chosen excerpts and keen analyses elucidate such subjects as connotation and denotation; symbolism; alliteration; the length and placement of words and phrases; foreshadowing; allusions; concrete details versus abstract concepts; and setting. No detail is too insignificant if it enables a reader to “see as a writer.”

“X-Ray Reading” is amusing, playful, and timely (Clark enlivens his narrative by frequently alluding to popular culture). It is exhilarating to dig beneath the surface of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” Yeats’s “The Second Coming,” Dickens’s “Bleak House,” Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” Rachel Carson’s “The Sea Around Us,” and Lauren Hillenbrand’s “Seabiscuit.” We get glimpses of the difficult choices that writers make: How should they structure their sentences, paragraphs, and chapters? What specific phrases should they use and why? How can they employ such seemingly extraneous elements as the weather and inanimate objects to illuminate important themes? In this edifying and entertaining book, Roy Peter Clark celebrates the art of communicating effectively through literature while providing aspiring writers and avid readers with “moments of discovery.”

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right

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