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How to Read Literature Like a Professor [Kindle Edition]

Thomas C. Foster
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (313 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.99
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Book Description

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.



Editorial Reviews

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.

About the Author

Thomas C. Foster is a professor of English at the University of Michigan-Flint, where he teaches contemporary fiction, drama, and poetry as well as creative writing and composition. He is the author of Twenty-five Books That Shaped America and several books on twentieth-century British and Irish fiction and poetry. He lives in East Lansing, Michigan.


Product Details

  • File Size: 274 KB
  • Print Length: 340 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 006000942X
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 edition (October 13, 2009)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000MAH71I
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,617 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
375 of 391 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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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214 of 223 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Practical and Amusing Guide to Literature March 15, 2003
Format:Paperback
One thing's for certain: after finishing HOW TO READ LITERATURE LIKE A PROFESSOR, you will either praise the author for opening your eyes to the pleasures of literary analysis, or curse him for making you think too much. That's because Thomas C. Foster, a professor of English at the University of Michigan at Flint, gives his readers a lot to consider.
The short answer one comes away with is that nothing is as it appears to be. Symbolism is key. Weather, for example, is not just weather. Rain can be cleansing, cold is harsh but clean, wet is earthy and animal.
In case the reader doesn't quite get what Foster is saying, he succinctly states his meaning in a single, boldface sentence. "Myth is a body of the story that matters" reads one. "The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge" is another.
My favorite is, "There's no such thing as a wholly original work of literature," a theme that is repeated on several occasions. According to Foster, everything any author has ever read influences what he writes. Using the western film as an example, he suggests, "What's it about? A big showdown? High Noon. A gunslinger who retires? Shane. A lonely outpost during an uprising? Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon - the woods are full of them . . ." Not that he blames writers for lack of originality: "You can't avoid [repetition], since even avoidance is a form of interaction. It's simply impossible to write . . . in a vacuum."
As previously mentioned, some chapters get slightly repetitive. "It's More Than Just Rain or Snow" has many features similar to "...And So Does Season," while "One Story" mirrors many aspects of "Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before.
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74 of 81 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great for a wide range of readers December 17, 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
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. Yes, in several places he does greatly reduce and simplify some of the headier, more complex issues in literature, but I think most readers will be prompted to build on his basic information on their own. As I was reading it I realized I would have loved it as an undergrad English major - especially when he was discussing early 20th Century works. This probably wouldn't have helped me in grad school as a student, but it would have helped me break down and better explain some concepts to the first year comp class I taught. I agree with a previous reviewer that the book is very unpretentious and Foster doesn't insert too much dry criticism here. Should be appealing to most beginning lit students and those who do some serious reading for their own enjoyment.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't Judge a Book by it's Cover October 19, 2011
Format:Paperback
How to Read Literature like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster was an enjoyable book and is an easy read due to the author's lightheartedness. Before reading this book, I often read many books and saw many movies without the full understanding of what the writer was truly trying to say. Take the chapter about water being a way of cleansing. As soon as that idea clicked for me, I suddenly thought of the movie that Hilary Duff is in, A Cinderella Story, when the rain came down after the drought everything seemed to fix itself - Austin and Sam kissed and the mean Step-Mother was officially out of Sam's life. Because of this simple explanation in the book everything made sense now, the rain cleansed Sam of her problems so she was able to make up with Austin and things were right again. This is just one the ways reading this book has opened my eyes to the many different types of symbolism, which has helped me a lot in my understandings of stories.

Another plus for this book would be the interesting discussions that were held in my English class due to the sometimes questionable ideas Thomas C. Foster brought up. The main idea that kept coming up in our discussions would be the idea of no wholly original stories. At first this idea seemed easily answered, but upon further discovery, our class found the answer to be somewhat inconclusive due to opposing reasons. With the talk that Thomas C. Foster had aroused, it had our entire class really thinking, which is hard to do at eight o'clock in the morning.

Even though I found the book to be very insightful, there are some things that could have been better. Seeing as I am only a sophomore in High School, I am not a super experienced reader, and the amount of examples from real life texts that Thomas C.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
No Issues
Published 13 hours ago by bs8792
5.0 out of 5 stars A Literary Must-Have
A useful tool for any high school/college student! This invaluable tool explains how to read analytically for academics. Read more
Published 2 days ago by Nicole
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Most Informative book evaa!! :3
Published 2 days ago by Peter
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
nice condition
Published 2 days ago by Danielle Baskin
5.0 out of 5 stars Book came in great condition. I enjoyed thoroughly reading this book...
Book came in great condition. I enjoyed thoroughly reading this book as well, it was a required reading for school but I have loaned it to many of my friends that enjoy reading as... Read more
Published 2 days ago by Bethany Quitral
5.0 out of 5 stars Relevant Reading
For those of us who've been out of school for a very long time, or those of us who are currently in school and need the basic tools of literary critique, T.C. Read more
Published 4 days ago by nancy
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book - I teach high school history
Excellent book - I teach high school history. I use many famous literary works to give students a sense of the Zeitgeist of the periods we are studying. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Whatwouldnelsondo
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Served its purpose...
Published 5 days ago by James Bartell
4.0 out of 5 stars Revised Edition!!
This is not the original - its a revised addition. Chapters have been omitted.
Published 6 days ago by Kristine
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
great book!
Published 6 days ago by MH
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how do i read well?
First off, are you referring to non-fiction or textbook reading and comprehension or 'imaginative' writing, like literary novels, epics, plays, poetry, etc. You can train yourself to read faster in the former category. With the latter, it is a matter of just reading quality books until your... Read More
Nov 22, 2010 by JackOfMostTrades |  See all 2 posts
What is the widest span of time for which you responded to a post?
I hope Avedon had the chance to read your reply.
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