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Extended Audio Sample How Fiction Works, by James Wood Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (2,009 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: James Wood Narrator: James Adams Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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What makes a story a story? What is style? What’s the connection between realism and real life? These are some of the questions James Wood answers in How Fiction Works, the first book-length essay by the preeminent critic of his generation.

Raging widely from Homer to David Foster Wallace, from What Maisie Knew to Make Way for Ducklings, Woods takes the reader through the basic elements of the art of fiction, step-by-step. He sums up two decades of insight with wit and concision, resulting in nothing less than a philosophy of the novel, which has won critical acclaim nationwide, from the San Francisco Chronicle to the New York Times Book Review.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Deservedly famous for [his] intellectual dazzle, literary acuteness and moral seriousness…Wood writes like a dream.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “The real question he is addressing in this book is not what makes fiction work, but what makes the best fiction work better than the rest. This is a technical book, a primer of sorts, of interest to the practicing writer but probably most useful and illuminating for the serious reader who enjoys the fictive ride and wants to take a look under the hood…All of this is engagingly presented, and…I recommend it highly.”

    Washington Post

  • How Fiction Works should delight and enlighten practicing novelists, would-be novelists, and all passionate readers of fiction.”


  • “[Wood proves] that superior criticism not only unifies and interprets a literary culture but has the power to imagine it into being.”

    Harper’s Magazine

  • “Arguably the preeminent critic of contemporary English letters, [Wood] accomplishes his mission of asking a critic’s questions and offer[ing] a writer’s answers with panache. This book is destined to be marked up, dog-eared, and cherished.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “James Wood’s commanding discussion of the inner workings of fiction writing is an informative reference…This insightful and extremely thorough work is akin to a college lecture…[James Adams’] masterful grasp of the content makes for a keen accompaniment to the material.”


  • A 2008 San Francisco Chronicle Best Book for Nonfiction
  • A 2008 Washington Post Best Book for Nonfiction
  • A 2008 Economist Best Book for Nonfiction
  • A 2008 Library Journal Best Book for Nonfiction
  • A 2008 New York Times Book Review Notable Book

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Stephen | 2/15/2014

    " There may not be much new in this book, but it is an extremely smart, readable introduction to the art of fiction, something we all need in this era when more and more readers, even in the academy, read only to uncover political or social messages. Moreover, Wood is strongly opinionated, and I find it a pleasure to engage a writer who is not afraid to put his cards on the table (down with Pynchon, up with Muriel Sparks, and down, sort of, with Iris Murdoch). Wood is basically a conservative reader who convinces us, should we need convincing, that Flaubert, Balzac, Tolstoy, James, Austen, Proust, and company deserve their lofty status. Wood writes reviews for the New Yorker and is one of the most influential and controversial reviewers in the United States. After reading this outstanding book and gaining a somewhat better understanding of his literary sensitivities, which I confess to admiring, I will follow his reviews with enhanced interest. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Tad Richards | 2/9/2014

    " One excellent insight on POV, not much else. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by David | 2/5/2014

    " Luminous critique of what it is we respond to in literary fiction. There a few points where Wood doesn't fully back up his judgments, and one is tempted to consider them a matter of taste. But the pairing of Henry James's What Maisie Knew with Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings to illustrate what Wood calls "free indirect style" is priceless. I queued up The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to read on the strength of Wood's references to it. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Demisty Bellinger | 2/4/2014

    " Probably the smartest book on fiction writing out there. "

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