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

Thomas Foster
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 19.99
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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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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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
"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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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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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
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 Useful Handbook Feb. 14 2014
By glen cochrane TOP 1000 REVIEWER
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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By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
"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
2.0 out of 5 stars One Reader's Futile Quest June 25 2004
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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Most recent customer reviews
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare was here.....
I wish I had had access to HOW TO READ LITERATURE LIKE A PROFESSOR for my Freshman English classes. Thomas C. Read more
Published on July 5 2004 by Dianne Foster
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
5.0 out of 5 stars friendly introduction to a deeper understanding of books
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... Read more
Published on Jan. 26 2004 by audrey
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Negotiable
The book could rate lower or higher, depending on how it is received by its intended audience--the avid but neophyte reader whose interest extends beyond the currently popular. Read more
Published on July 2 2003 by Samuel Chell
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