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How To Read Literature Like A Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines [Paperback]

Thomas Foster
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 6 2003

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.


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How To Read Literature Like A Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines + How To Read Novels Like A Professor: A Jaunty Exploration of the World's Favorite Literary Form
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Product Description

From the Back Cover

A thoroughly revised and updated edition of Thomas C. Foster's classic guide—a lively and entertaining introduction to literature and literary basics, including symbols, themes, and contexts—that shows you how to make your everyday reading experience more rewarding and enjoyable.

While many books can be enjoyed for their basic stories, there are often deeper literary meanings interwoven in these texts. How to Read Literature Like a Professor helps us to discover those hidden truths by looking at literature with the eyes—and the literary codes—of the ultimate professional reader: the college professor.

What does it mean when a literary hero travels along a dusty road? When he hands a drink to his companion? When he's drenched in a sudden rain shower? Ranging from major themes to literary models, narrative devices, and form, Thomas C. Foster provides us with a broad overview of literature—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 a shower—and shows us how to make our reading experience more enriching, satisfying, and fun.

This revised edition includes new chapters, a new preface, and a new epilogue, and incorporates updated teaching points that Foster has developed over the past decade.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Tom Foster is Professor of English at the University of Michigan, Flint, where he teaches classes in contemporary fiction, drama and poetry as well as creative writing and composition. He has written several books on twentieth-century British and Irish literature and poetry and lives in East Lansing, Michigan.


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"OKAY, SO HERE'S THE DEAL: let's say, purely hypothetically, you're reading a book about an average sixteen-year-old kid in the summer of 1968." Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An Aptly Named but Disappointing Book 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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4.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare was here..... July 5 2004
Format:Paperback
I wish I had had access to HOW TO READ LITERATURE LIKE A PROFESSOR for my Freshman English classes. Thomas C. Foster provides the reader with insights into those amazing points college professors and advanced placement English teachers make concerning classical texts such as PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, THE SUN ALSO RISES, BELOVED, and the other standard works assigned to young students. The older reader will also appreciate his insights. You may even finally discover why certain works appeal to you while others don't, or why trashy novels don't fill the gap in your soul "good" books do.
"It was a dark and stormy night..." So begins the never finished novel Snoopy has been developing on the top of his dog house for years. And so began (or similarly began) one of the great classics...WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Foster explains why the weather in a novel is a very important clue. Sunshine and clouds affect mood and the classical writers are adept at using atmospheric pressure to evoke mood.
Foster explains that other literary devices have been used to effect mood, attitude, and feelings of commiseration ever since our forebears sat around the campfires and told each other entertaining tales. Shakespeare may have been original, but he was also a master of understanding what worked for other authors from whom he borrowed much. A number of great works written since Shakespeare use his devices including subtle references to the Bible and the Greek Classics.
One wonders in an age not prone to studying the Bible as literature or Latin in high school, how much is lost. On the other hand, the study of Spanish (a Romance language) could prove quite important to speakers of English deprived of Latin classes. Don Quixote understood the importance of "the quest."
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By audrey
Format:Paperback
The author is an English professor at the University of Michigan and it becomes apparent quite quickly that he is one of those popular professors who is chatty and has lots of students signing up for his introductory courses on literature. The language is friendly and the examples are entertaining as well as informative. If I lived in Flint, I'd take his classes.
There have been many times I've read a book and just *known* the author is trying to impart more than I am taking away from the prose, and I hear about symbolism in literature, yet I have very little success finding it on my own. One time in high school I had a very good English teacher who would point out the symbolism in stories and novels, but he never told us how to do it, as this book does. With chapters on a wide range of topics (journeys, meals, poetry, Shakespeare, the Bible, mythology, fairy tales, weather, geography, violence, politics, sex and illness, among others) and a wide variety of examples, I found myself learning A LOT. Certainly this would not be of much value to a literature graduate student or professor, but for the rest of us this is a great introduction to getting more out of our reading (or viewing, as the author also touches on film, though to a lesser extent).
The book concludes with a test, in which you read a short story and interpret it using the principles put forth by Professor Foster, then interpretations by several students and Foster himself -- delightful and illuminating! Finally, the author gives a suggested reading/viewing list and an index.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Super useful
An excellent read that I will recommend to my students. I wish I had this when I was in school.
Published 1 month ago by Katie Jilesen
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful Handbook
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... Read more
Published 6 months ago by glen cochrane
5.0 out of 5 stars A Friendly Look Inside Literature for Those Who Majored Outside of the...
"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? Read more
Published on Aug. 18 2010 by Donald Mitchell
5.0 out of 5 stars Hesitant at first
Having been out of school now for a number of years, I was hesitant to pick up this book. But something kept nagging at me each time I read a new work--thinking I was missing... Read more
Published on Aug. 10 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars One Reader's Futile Quest
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... Read more
Published on June 25 2004 by Steven D. Miller
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and Memorable
This is a super introduction to reading literature critically. Foster writes in a relaxed, conversational manner so the reader feels like a participant in the classroom. Read more
Published on April 2 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars practical guide to reading
Foster tackles Literature from a symbolic metaphorical side, delving into Myths, symbols, and the connectedness of all Literature etc. Read more
Published on Dec 22 2003 by AJ
4.0 out of 5 stars Great for a wide range of readers
I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. I generally stay away from these types of "how-to" guides, but this caught my eye at the library and I took a chance. Read more
Published on Dec 17 2003
2.0 out of 5 stars I'll have to be contrarian...
In spite of others' praise, I have to say I don't think highly of the book. It seems rather obvious to point out that stories can't be entirely original and writers will write... Read more
Published on Dec 15 2003 by lady_of_mercia
5.0 out of 5 stars Lucid intro to reading fiction more deeply
This book is an unpretentious introduction to various aspects of reading literature deeply, and on more than just a superficial level. Read more
Published on Nov. 29 2003
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