Yes, it's the title of a Francine Prose book I read a while back (and made a note to read the books in her list at the back and never quite followed through), but the question is...
...Is it just me, or do others also find that "reading like a writer" is a lot easier when the writing is lousy? By "reading like a writer," I mean paying attention to what the author is doing in the broadest possible terms - language, characterization, pacing, setting theme, and so on - instead of being a passive reader. (I think calling readers "passive" is an unfair characterization most of the time, but I use the word to equate it to watching TV or a movie rather than being actively analytical.)
See, when the writing is good - very good - I find myself (despite my best efforts) reading too much like a reader: getting sucked into and carried away by the story, not paying as much attention as I should to all the things the author is doing right. This is somewhat of a guilty admission, but Stephen King does this to me almost every time. His dialogue is amazing (usually), his characterization masterly (most of the time), his story premises simple (often unoriginal, even) but effective, and his ability to ratchet up the tension and raise the stakes (and keep them raised) unparalleled.
I also failed to very effectively read like a writer when I read Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes (one of the best two novels I've read this year, along with Empire Falls). I noticed, fleetingly, how quickly he ratcheted up the tension, how true his dialogue was, his descriptions of battle, his ability to tell us just enough about the large cast of characters so that we didn't get any more confused than he intended. But I kept getting too sucked into the story to worry about it all that much.
I've gotten better at this over time, with more experience writing and more self-consciousness (I mean this in a good way) about what makes my own writing stronger or weaker. But I still find it hard to enjoy a story and read like a writer simultaneously, especially when I'm actually inclined to enjoy the story. (Give me some shitty piece of trash to read and I can see all the problems. It's even easier for me to see the good things an author does in a book I don't really like or am not all that into.) Now, you might say that is what rereading is for, and to that I answer: re-what? I'm lucky I have time to read it once!
One last thought: if you've ever tried mindfulness meditation, you know you are supposed to observe yourself meditating, notice when you have thoughts, acknowledge them, and bring yourself back to mindfulness (concentrating on the breath or whatever). In a way, you're supposed to step outside yourself and watch yourself just be. (Which, to me, has always begged the question of whether you're supposed to watch yourself watching yourself just be, and so on. The zen masters would not be pleased that the Lt. is such a fucking wiseass.) But reading like a writer is kind of like mindfulness meditation in that you need to observe not only what the author is doing, but also yourself as a reader. It also requires you to step outside yourself, outside your interaction with the story...and that's a toughie when the story is good!
And that's about as close to a deep thought as I'm going to get today.