13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley

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Over an extraordinary twenty-year career, Jane Smiley has written all kinds of novels: mystery, comedy, historical fiction, epic. “Is there anything Jane Smiley cannot do?” raves Time magazine. But in the wake of 9/11, Smiley faltered in her hitherto unflagging impulse to write and decided to approach novels from a different angle: she read one hundred of them, from classics such as the thousand-year-old Tale of Genji to recent fiction by Zadie Smith, Nicholson Baker, and Alice Munro.

Smiley explores–as no novelist has before her–the unparalleled intimacy of reading, why a novel succeeds (or doesn’t), and how the novel has changed over time. She describes a novelist as “right on the cusp between someone who knows everything and someone who knows nothing,” yet whose “job and ambition is to develop a theory of how it feels to be alive.”

In her inimitable style–exuberant, candid, opinionated–Smiley invites us behind the scenes of novel-writing, sharing her own habits and spilling the secrets of her craft. She walks us step-by-step through the publication of her most recent novel, Good Faith, and, in two vital chapters on how to write “a novel of your own,” offers priceless advice to aspiring authors. 

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel may amount to a peculiar form of autobiography. We see Smiley reading in bed with a chocolate bar; mulling over plot twists while cooking dinner for her family; even, at the age of twelve, devouring Sherlock Holmes mysteries, which she later realized were among her earliest literary models for plot and character.

And in an exhilarating conclusion, Smiley considers individually the one hundred books she read, from Don Quixote to Lolita to Atonement, presenting her own insights and often controversial opinions. In its scope and gleeful eclecticism, her reading list is one of the most compelling–and surprising–ever assembled.

Engaging, wise, sometimes irreverent, Thirteen Ways is essential reading for anyone who has ever escaped into the pages of a novel or, for that matter, wanted to write one. In Smiley’s own words, ones she found herself turning to over the course of her journey: “Read this. I bet you’ll like it.”

About Jane Smiley

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Jane Smiley is the author of eleven novels as well as three works of nonfiction. She is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2001. Smiley lives in Northern California.
Published September 13, 2005 by Knopf. 608 pages
Genres: History, Education & Reference, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel

Kirkus Reviews

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Bracing literary criticism from a practitioner's point of view.

May 20 2010 | Read Full Review of 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel

Book Reporter

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley is in a unique position to offer her thoughts on the novel.

Dec 22 2010 | Read Full Review of 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel

USA Today

In 2001, the author of A Thousand Acres and A Year at the Races decided to read 100 novels, from classics to recent fiction.She began with TheTale of Genji, written 1,000 years ago by Murasaki Shikibu, and ends with Atonement by British author Ian McEwan, published in 2001.Smiley writes in 13 Way...

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Jane Smiley is widely known as the best selling author of 11 well-respected novels, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Thousand Acres, though she’s also written three works of non-fiction and numerous essays, short stories, and magazine articles.

Nov 15 2006 | Read Full Review of 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel

Deseret News

When she reached her 52nd birthday in 2001, she decided to read 100 novels and write a book about novel-writing.

Oct 09 2005 | Read Full Review of 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel

Bookmarks Magazine

… 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel will elicit empathetic pangs of understanding while also instigating a broader view of the novel as a living, breathing entity."

Aug 27 2007 | Read Full Review of 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel

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