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How To Read Literature Like A Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines Paperback – Feb 6 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 edition (Feb. 6 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006000942X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060009427
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 13.5 x 2.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 249 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #99,416 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Walker on April 8 2004
Format: Paperback
There is a well-known scene in the film "Dead Poets Society" where an English professor instructs his students to rip a bland scholarly essay on poetry from their textbooks. This book is the spiritual heir to those ripped out and discarded pages... what makes this all the more depressing is that the author clearly had the opposite intent in mind.
The book is an acceptable introduction to literary themes and symbolic thinking, well-suited to budding writers and English majors; despite the publisher's claims, however, I find it neither "lively" nor "engaging" enough to gain wide appeal outside those circles. Indeed, Professor Foster seems to have written the book precisely for that audience, as he assumes a broad literary knowledge on the part of the reader, but insists on repeatedly hammering home trivial concepts (like submersion in water being symbolic of baptism) that anyone "well-read" enough to follow him should already know. This tone, and the frequent return to themes and topics already covered in great detail - oh, look, another Toni Morrison reference - make reading this book feel like an assigned task. Since there will be no quiz later, I can not recommend the book.
I really wanted to like this book. Professor Foster seems a charming and intelligent fellow, and I would probably enjoy taking his classes. Nonetheless, I find this dry and repetitive contribution to "the ur-story" lacking... the reader that would benefit the most from it would likely enjoy it least. The praise of the book by English professors shows that the converse is also true.
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By Katie Jilesen on July 7 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An excellent read that I will recommend to my students. I wish I had this when I was in school.
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By glen cochrane TOP 1000 REVIEWER on Feb. 14 2014
Format: Paperback
One of the best things about this book is its style - it is very easy to read, well organized, and quite often makes fun of itself, a quality much needed for a topic like this that can easily drift into the heavy weight of over-analysis. I enjoyed Foster's style and appreciate how he is able to communicate his obviously vast knowledge.

The content of the book was useful, too, I found. I haven't studied such literary themes and symbols since my undergraduate days as an English Lit major, and enjoyed the refresher. I would have loved for my first year Literature professor to assign a book like this for reading on day one of class - or even for it to be a part of secondary English Literature reading. It certainly doesn't cover everything, and is not the be all of how to read literature, but it does set out a way for learners to approach reading literature. It would have made life a bit easier for a new lit student, as I think the book suggests clearly the specific mindset needed to interpret works of literature in the academic setting.

One point that I think Foster doesn't actually get into, but comes close and could have, was that many of our literary symbols reflect life itself. Events in life have meaning, and that is reflected in the stories that we tell. This omission didn't change my rating of the book, however, it's a solid 3.5-4 stars out of five.
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Format: Paperback
"And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. Then Abimelech asked Abraham, "What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs which you have set by themselves?" -- Genesis 21:28-29 (NKJV)

Literature professors have a reputation second only to French professors for being rather snooty about those who don't share their expertise and devotion to the Holy Grail of their specialties. Professor Thomas C. Foster is the happy exception, taking great glee in revealing the secrets (it's all connected to everything else) and showing simple ways to grasp more of the intended (and unintended) meanings of literary prose. He makes the subject fun, something I remember very little of from my college classes . . . which were usually pompous, dull, and discouraging.

If you can read at the eighth grade level, you can get quite a lot of benefit from this book. You also don't have to have read very much. Professor Foster provides the information you need to grasp more of the references and to look for more.

I was particularly grateful for his list of rewarding literary books to read. The ones I have read were all superb, and I assume the ones I have still to read will be, too. I was also encouraged to realize that my love of Greek myths would be helpful if I take the time to refresh my memory about those lovely tales that I enjoyed so much as a youngster.

As a writer, I'm grateful to his suggestion that drawing from kiddie lit is the best way to knit together references that will be relatively universal.

The book culminates in a case study where you have a chance to try your wings and compare answers.

Someone who has studied literature will find this book too elementary to be very useful, but if someone teaches literature I think this book can be a great blessing for showing how to make literature much more accessible.

Bravo, Professor Foster!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Steven D. Miller on June 25 2004
Format: Paperback
I set out on my journey through this book with great trepidation and anticipation - trepidation that I would be forever lost in the mazes of literary notions heretofore only alluded to in the occasional book review, such that I might never be able to read fiction again for the crowds of overarching ideas that would envelop me. Anticipation that I would now be able to spot nuances that had previously flown right over my head like the birds and butterflies in the test case short story at the end of this book.
I needn't have worried my pretty little head. Foster belabors the obvious again and again throughout this book (Spring? Rebirth? Gasp!), while attempting to pepper it with humor that creaks like the bones of a Shakespearean ghost and evidently proud references to popular music from 30 years or more in the past that marks him as rather hopelessly out of date instead of with the coolness he seems to think it evinces. I had to keep referring to the title page to be absolutely certain he didn't write this book (more forgivebly) in 1974. It is to cringe.
This book was a waste of money, even at the used price.
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