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How to Read Novels Like a Professor: A Jaunty Exploration of the World’s Favorite Literary Form Paperback – July 1, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (July 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061340405
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061340406
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I am still on the fence about this book. Having read his prior guide, "How to Read Literature...", I was looking very forward to this work as well. Having finished, I am not exactly sure where I stand. To be honest, I was looking forward to something a bit more similar to his first book. This guide has a roughly similar idea, but it really did not do anything for me as far as learning how to read a novel. It was more of a study in novel history, styles, and techniques. It did offer some wonderful insight in why authors do what they do, the choices they make, and experiments they take. The problem is that Foster did not offer much in how to interpret this. It was like a study in the various ways writers craft their technique and how it differs between them (and time). Which leads me to the next thing...

This book, perhaps, should have been titled, "How to Craft Novels Like a Writer", or some other similar idea. There is a lot in here for an aspiring writer, examples of different techniques, character studies, writing styles, plot, theme, and so forth. I got much more out of this book on a writing level than on a reading level. He even references his creative writing classes several times as examples. All of the examples used to try and illustrate how to `read' a passage was much better used as a writing guideline / example. So, in other words, the book makes a great guide for aspiring writers and for those who want some history and aspects of the novel as a form of lit. If you are looking for something as straightforward as his first book, this does not come close. I know some people had an issue with his `cookie-cutter' approach in his first work, but that is exactly why it is now being used in the classroom by many teachers, including myself.
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Format: Paperback
As a high school English teacher, I thoroughly enjoyed Foster's How to Read Literature Like a Professor. Our school's AP program uses the book and I've shared select chapters with my underclassmen. I picked up How to Read Novels Like a Professor with high hopes that I would be able to use it in my classroom. Like many sequels, this book does not live up to the promise of its predecessor.

My first concern as a classroom teacher is that my students have not yet encountered a majority of the texts Foster references. The reader who needs a book titled How to Read Novels like a Professor is unlikely to be fluent in Joyce. Foster relies on examples to clarify his points, but the use of oblique references to texts his potential readers are unfamiliar with undermines the clarity of his text. Joyce and Faulkner may act as common ground for those of us with degrees in literature, for those still in training Salinger and Twain would be more effective.

I appreciate Foster's wit and voice, but that is because I know the material he is discussing well enough to differentiate between zingers and revelations. The voice that makes his work approachable to me, is the same voice that would utterly confuse my students. In my experience, high school readers take flip comments literally when they are not fluent in the subject matter. While I may chuckle at Foster's humor or find his comments unnecessarily distracting, my students would be lost.

The chapters in this book lack the tight focus of How to Read Literature; Foster wanders aimlessly at times as though the purpose of the chapter is to fill space. Had the book been shorter and the focus tighter, this would have been a better book.
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I loved Professor Foster's How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines, but this second installment feels more like a sequel than a standalone guide. The chapters here read like "leftovers" for what he didn't cover in the previous work. For instance, an entire chapter is dedicated to the literary importance of chapter breaks in reading novels--not exactly groundbreaking stuff.

Further, the information in the book could be presented in about 30 pages. The information is presented in the first paragraph of each chapter, propped up with about 9 pages of fluff and discussion of specific novels, then summarized in the concluding paragraph. Highlighting the key points and skipping the fluff, I made it through this book in about two hours.

Do yourself a favor and pick up How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines if you really want to learn a thing or two about reading literature.
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Format: Paperback
As a high school English teacher with two small children, I rarely get a chance to read a book for pleasure--let alone finish one. Amazingly, I read both of Foster's guides this summer. Each was a palatable presentation of issues surrounding literature in general and the novel in particular. He has a clear "voice" allowing me to imagine being back at a university lecture again--one of my favorite places to be! While other texts may seem more "scholaraly" (i.e. "dry"), Foster has a really accessible style for high school students, undergrads, and the interested public at large.
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