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How to Read Literature Like a Professor (original 2003; edition 2003)

by Thomas C. Foster

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1,918543,572 (3.87)102
Member:brian5764
Title:How to Read Literature Like a Professor
Authors:Thomas C. Foster
Info:Harper Perennial (2009), Edition
Collections:Read
Rating:****1/2
Tags:Nonfiction, Literary Theory

Work details

How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines by Thomas C. Foster (2003)

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Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
Eh. In an effort to be light and lively and not overly academic, it came off as simplistic and often trite and/or stilted. I did the archetypes thing in high school lit and I see it alot but some of his rules just turned it into a forced game of "find the Greek myth." Maybe there isn't as much to literary critiscism as I think.
  amyem58 | Jul 15, 2014 |
It's a rare day that I'm willing to give a full five out of five stars to a book. It's rarer still that I'll give the five stars, and then put it back on my bed-stand for continual reference in my future reading.

It's just that kind of a book, and every bibliophile should read it.
In "How to Read Literature like a Professor," Thomas Foster has given us a delightful little romp through literature, producing a guide to the themes, symbolism, ironies, allusions, and plots that reoccur through-out almost all of the fiction we read. Whether it's Charles Dickens or Charles Schulz or even Tom Clancy, Foster's collection of essays are each a fun and enjoyable guide to what you've been reading, and what you will read, when you pick up a work of fiction.

For example: in chapter 10, "It's more than just rain or snow," we read that "weather is never just weather. It's never just rain." Rather, Foster says, instead of providing just a setting, a backdrop to the story, weather in fiction is rooted in our fears and hopes. In addition to appearing as a feature character in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic biblical tale of the great flood, it makes notable and significant sightings in mythologies from all over the world, often, if not always, appearing and appealing to our fear of drowning. "Rain," Foster says, "prompts ancestral memories of the most profound sort. So water in great volume speaks to us at a very basic level of being.

So rain--and floods--signifies drowning? Kind of, but it doesn't stop there. Citing D.H. Lawrence's "The Virgin and the Gypsy" (1930), which I've not read yet, Foster sees it as a "big eraser that destroys but also allows a brand-new start."

Kind of like baptism? Yeah. If you're part of that Christian tradition, this is what baptism is: death of the old, imperfect, and flawed man, and rebirth of a new man. And such is the role that this element--rain and floods--plays in literature. Well, most of the time. Fog can represent a lack of clarity, sunshine hope and clarity. In short, weather is rarely just setting.

That's rain and weather. Each chapter is a written with a quick and light wit that allows a reader, whatever his level of experience with literature, to follow along, see the theme, enjoy the examples, and find a taste for the point. Other chapter titles include the following:

• "When in Doubt, It's from Shakespeare..."
• "…Or the Bible"
• "It's All Political"
• "Marked for Greatness"
• "Nice to Eat with You: Acts of Communion" and, of course,
• "Nice to Eat You: Acts of Vampire." (Stephanie Meyer ought to pick that one up to understand why people who love literature hate Twilight).

Weighing in at just under three hundred pages, "How to Read Literature Like a Professor" doesn't require deep commitment, deep concentration, or deep literature reading. My brain-candy of choice usually falls in the science-fiction or fantasy categories, and yet, I've started to find the themes and allusions and ironies that I saw in classics like "Howards End" and "Bleak House" appearing there, too. Whatever you read, it applies the symbolism that Foster walks through. As a result, my experience, whatever I'm reading, has been more enjoyable since I started it. It's that moment of sudden realization when the whole theme of Steven Erikson "Book of the Fallen" subplot (and there are a lot of them) is an allusion, or imitation, to Spartacus (I think). Or that the journey (all journeys are quests) across the water is a journey of transformation, where the fallen man chooses to start a new life, emerging from the water, as it were, reborn.

It's fun. A lot of fun. Even just reading the book itself is fun. To boot, at the end Foster provides a list of all the books he refers to throughout his essays to allow you, the reader, to pick them up and read further. And what could be more fun about reading than delving into great fiction?

Pick it up, start reading, and enhance your general reading experience. If you're going to read fiction, and you should, you might as well get the most out of it.
( )
  publiusdb | Aug 22, 2013 |
Thomas Foster says at the end that his reader has put up with his digressions and mannerisms more than he has any right to expect. No she didn���t. She skimmed. A lot.

He writes for a popular audience and very carefully does not condescend, all very well. If I were part of his target audience instead of the condescending one to the side wondering that anyone could fail to sense that rain in a book is not precipitation but a symbol, I might have found him encouraging. As it was, I found him too like the writers of the Dummies series for my taste.
  ljhliesl | May 21, 2013 |
this is a terribly helpful book in the classroom. i use a couple of chapters from this book for my students of 1320 (non majors who are supposed to learn to write about literature).

the theory is both solid and entertaining, and foster's references marry pop culture with great books in a way that doesn't pander or patronize. also, the great books are not all by white american men, and foster consciously uses non-sexist language throughout.

( )
  usefuljack | May 17, 2013 |
this is a terribly helpful book in the classroom. i use a couple of chapters from this book for my students of 1320 (non majors who are supposed to learn to write about literature).

the theory is both solid and entertaining, and foster's references marry pop culture with great books in a way that doesn't pander or patronize. also, the great books are not all by white american men, and foster consciously uses non-sexist language throughout.

( )
  usefuljack | May 17, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 006000942X, Paperback)

What does it mean when a fictional hero takes a journey?. Shares a meal? Gets drenched in a sudden rain shower? Often, there is much more going on in a novel or poem than is readily visible on the surface—a symbol, maybe, that remains elusive, or an unexpected twist on a character—and there's that sneaking suspicion that the deeper meaning of a literary text keeps escaping you.

In this practical and amusing guide to literature, Thomas C. Foster shows how easy and gratifying it is to unlock those hidden truths, and to discover a world where a road leads to a quest; a shared meal may signify a communion; and rain, whether cleansing or destructive, is never just rain. Ranging from major themes to literary models, narrative devices, and form, How to Read Literature Like a Professor is the perfect companion for making your reading experience more enriching, satisfying, and fun.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:56 -0400)

What does it mean when a fictional hero takes a journey?. Shares a meal? Gets drenched in a sudden rain shower? Often, there is much more going on in a novel or poem than is readily visible on the surface -- a symbol, maybe, that remains elusive, or an unexpected twist on a character - and there's that sneaking suspicion that the deeper meaning of a literary text keeps escaping you. In this practical and amusing guide to literature, Thomas C. Foster shows how easy and gratifying it is to unlock those hidden truths, and to discover a world where a road leads to a quest a shared meal may signify a communion and rain, whether cleansing or destructive, is never just rain. Ranging from major themes to literary models, narrative devices, and form, How to Read Literature Like a Professor is the perfect companion for making your reading experience more enriching, satisfying, and fun.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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