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How to read literature like a professor

Written by son of rambow on Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Title: How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines
Author: Thomas C. Foster
Published by Harper Paperbacks, 2003
ISBN: 006000942X
Pages 336


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.

amazon comments:

Summary: A genious with a sense of humor dances through literary analysis
Rating: 5

I absolutely loved this book. I disagree with the professor on some minor points, but overall I thought his work was brilliant.

First he covers the sources of traditional story patterns. The bible, myth, Shakespeare, folk tales, and more. Then he shows how they are played out in more modern works. Third he works through symbols, like water (though he missed that water is a fertility symbol), caves, sharing a meal, and going on a journey. Finally, he pulls it all together with a great short story and shows how it all works together. I'm eager to start reading his next book, How to Read Novels Like a Professor. Sadly, not yet available for the Kindle.


Summary: "A broad introduction to the codes and patterns that inform our readings."
Rating: 5

Thomas C. Foster's "How to Read Literature Like a Professor" is a joyful romp for those of us who love pondering and discussing well-written poems, stories, and novels. The author's delightful sense of humor and refreshing lack of pomposity make this an entertaining "guide to reading between the lines." In his introduction, Foster immediately grabs our attention by discussing Mr. Lindner, a "milquetoast" sent to tempt the Younger family in Hanberry's "A Raisin in the Sun." The Youngers have made a down-payment on a home in an all-white neighborhood, but Lindner tries to buy out their claim in order to prevent the neighborhood from becoming integrated. For all of his apparent meekness, Foster insists, Lindner is actually the devil in disguise. His offer is a Faustian bargain, a literary concept that goes all the way back to the Elizabethan era and has recurred many times since in many forms.

Lest we laugh at this interpretation as being too far-fetched, Foster backs up his contention, explaining that a professor reads literature within a certain frame of reference. As he explains: "What I'm talking about is a grammar of literature, a set of conventions and patterns, codes and rules, that we learn to employ in dealing with a piece of writing." Although some readers pick up a book for a few hours of pleasure without wanting to delve into its many nuances, "How to Read Literature" is geared to those of us who are interested in symbols, motifs, and the underlying significance of literary works.

Foster's style is amusing, instructive, and always lively. He focuses on such diverse writers as William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, Robert Frost, James Joyce, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, and D. H. Lawrence, among others. Using detailed examples, the author illustrates the far-reaching implications of such elements as setting, illness, eroticism, politics, violence, and irony. He urges us to read, not just from the perspective of our day and age, but also from the point of view of the writer. He concludes with Katherine Mansfield's brilliant short story, "The Garden Party," followed by a discussion of its many facets, some of which may surprise you. There is an appendix that includes a suggested reading list of primary and secondary sources. Even if you don't agree with everything Foster says and even if you don't particularly enjoy the writers whom he praises so effusively, you will come away from "How to Read Literature Like a Professor" with a renewed appreciation for the richness and endless depth of thought-provoking literature.


Summary: Elementary way to read professionally
Rating: 5

This is indeed a fantastic aid when analyzing literature. In AP literature, one must definitely know how to analyze different works. This work gives simple ways to explain difficult concepts or difficult to find ideas. Sometimes the book does over-state key ideas, this reiteration could be quite bothersome when reading the entire book at once. i would advise that you only look up things as you need them, but the writing is fascinating and can be quite colorful and even enjoyable. This was a great purchase for me!


Summary: Well descript and open-minded book
Rating: 5

While only just beginning to read this novel I have found some very intriguing remarks just in the first section where the author refers to a teacher teaching a class by reading a passage from another book where a home owner is selling the house and another man is attempting to pay the man and his family to leave the community. The description of the man trying to pay the man who owns the house off to move is stated by the teacher as "The Devil" because of the nature of his proposal. The nature of the proposal was that of integrity, dignity, and self-respect. All were in violation with the proposal and the man was in a bind because after the house was sold, the money ended up missing. Eventually the man came to terms with himself and declined the proposal while maintaining his integrity, dignity, and self-respect. The manner in which the author uses the teacher to describe this understanding is brilliant, insightful, and full of twists that keep you in suspense for further analysis of human behaviors, and abilities to read into a character by their actions and motives and use these to track down their choices. In essence, this is what makes up a part of a person's identity with themselves and the world around them. I am anxiously awaiting the next reading session and hope to add further details as they unfold.


Summary: How to Read Literature like a Professor is a popular introduction to critical reading skills for students, teachers and readers
Rating: 4

Dr. Thomas C. Foster is a Michigan Professor of English who has written this bestseller and its sequel "How To Read Novels Like a Professor". This is the initial volume published in paperback by Quill in 2003.
Foster is well versed in all aspects of the literary field from ancient works to fiction by living writers. In his lively little book he introduces us to such terms as the following:
Seasons; Food; the Bible, Greek and Latin classical allusions and the world of fairy tales. He discusses irony, plote, motif and theme. All of this can be found elsewhere and in greater depth but Foster does an adequate job by using cogent illustrations from outstanding works such as "The Alexandrine Quartet" of Lawrence Durrell;
"A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess; "Grendel" by John Gardner as well as classics penned by such notables as Dickens, Henry James, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence and the ancient Greek dramatists. He also uses examples from African-American, Latin American and Native American works which is commendable. I especially enjoyed his contention that the chief character in Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" is a Christ figure.
The best part of the book was the chapter in which we are asked to peruse Katherine Mansfield's "The Garden Party" short story and then analyze it using the tools of the literary critic which we have acquired1 This was great fun! Valid interpretations of a literary work are myriad making it fun to become engrossed in literature!
Foster alludes to the sonnet and Shakespeare but otherwise has little to say about legitimate drama. The book is a beginner's guide not for the advanced literary scholar. It will keep your interest for several hours; you will learn new ways of looking at old books and you will become a better reader. Recommended!


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