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How To Read Literature Like A Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines Paperback – Jan 31 2003

4 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 edition (Jan. 31 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006000942X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060009427
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.9 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 249 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #128,178 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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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Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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