ebookclassics

How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster (2003)

readReading literature is hard. I’m always banging my head against my ereader and exclaiming, “What does this mean?” A few years ago I read The Dubliners, a collection of short stories by James Joyce and was completely baffled by its most recognized story, The Dead. What in the Dickens was this story detailing a family party supposed to be about? I was completely clueless. Shortly afterwards, I came across How to Read Literature Like A Professor where Thomas C. Foster spelled out everything that was bubbling beneath the surface of that party … and it made sense to me! Since it never occurred to me to look up Sparknotes, it was as if the universe wanted me to understand The Dead once and for all.

THE BOOK
Thomas C. Foster provides an easy-to-follow guide to recognizing the symbols that represent some of the most universal themes in literature, as well as some tips and tricks if you still can’t figure it out.

THE GOOD
I immediately loved this book because it made me feel like less of a dimwit. The author gives each symbol its own chapter and clearly explains with a little tongue-in-cheek humour what to look for in a story. He also provides plenty of examples to give you a better idea of what he’s talking about.

THE BAD
Many of the novels the author references in the guide I have never heard of with the exception of The Dubliners. You can still understand his explanation, but I would love a version of this guide with references to more up-to-date books.

CONCLUSION
Although it’s no substitute for getting a degree in literature, How to Read Literature Like A Professor is a handy guide for the average reader who wants to gain a better understanding of the deeper layers in a story. This is my second reading and I will probably make this book part of my reference library.

4/5 Stars

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17 comments on “How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster (2003)

  1. janceewright
    June 11, 2015

    I think I have this on my TBR. I remember reading Infinite Jest and just being like “what just happened?” when I finished. I had to Google some answers so I could understand. Definitely value in a book like this!

    Like

    • lauratfrey
      June 11, 2015

      My post about how I don’t know what happened in Infinite Jest is consistently in my top 3 posts and it’s like 3 years old. So you’re no alone! I have NO idea how people figured it out.

      Like

      • janceewright
        June 12, 2015

        Right? Once I read some posts that had though, my mind was blown!

        Like

    • ebookclassics
      June 12, 2015

      I haven’t read Infinite Jest, but feel like it probably needs a guide all on its own.

      Like

      • janceewright
        June 12, 2015

        It really does. One of the more interesting books I’ve read.

        Like

  2. lauratfrey
    June 11, 2015

    I unabashedly read SparkNotes and Google and look up plot summaries… I haven’t done so in a while, only because I haven’t read a challenging classic in a while (hmm.) I haven’t tried any guide like there (I’ve seen a few others, but this one is new to me.) Are the books he references all capital-C Classics? I think I read The Dead in English class so I probably had it explained to me at some point 🙂

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      June 12, 2015

      There aren’t any capital-C Classics other than The Dubliners and Beloved by Toni Morrison. The other novels I’ve never heard of, but they all seem to be from the 60s-70s …?

      Like

  3. I found this book interesting as additional information but I still love Mortimer J. Adler’s How To Read A Book best. Thanks for the reminder; I should get this book out and read it again.

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      June 12, 2015

      Thanks for the rec! I’m going to look this book up. What do you think makes Adler’s book better?

      Like

  4. Brian Joseph
    June 12, 2015

    I read this a few years ago and like yourself I found it helpful. Over the years I too have struggled to get more out of literature. having tread several books like this has been an enormous help,

    I second the recommendation for Mortimer J. Adler’s book, it is also a great resource.

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      June 12, 2015

      Interesting … again, what makes Adler’s book better. I really liked Foster’s book, but if there is a superior guide I would like to read it.

      Like

  5. Naomi
    June 12, 2015

    Oh, this could be useful…
    Spark notes is good too, if I could only remember it exists.

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      June 12, 2015

      I forget too and wish I would remember because I don’t feel it’s a bad thing to have a little guidance. It’s what makes book clubs so helpful as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. TJ @ MyBookStrings
    June 12, 2015

    I have to check whether the library has this. Sometimes, I wonder if authors really put everything into their novels that we read into them, but it would be interesting to see whether he can convince me that a rain shower “always” means the same thing. (That’s from the book description on Amazon.) I agree though that sometimes, a little help makes all the difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ebookclassics
      June 15, 2015

      I have wondered about this myself because although we can analyze a novel to death, the author really is the only one who can speak to the symbolism and any other hidden meanings.

      Like

  7. DoingDewey
    June 22, 2015

    I’m not sure if this is something I want to know or not. I took an upper-level English class once and I often felt as though we were reading more into each book or story than the author intended us to. It’s possible that with more difficult literature, where the author’s words alone are just confusing, I might find this kind of literary analysis more convincing though.

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      June 23, 2015

      I also question how deep anyone should really analyze literature without knowing what the author intended. It makes me laugh to think maybe they were just writing for fun and we’re all taking it too seriously! As for this book, I thought the guidance on common forms of symbolism was interesting, but I still need a lot of help to understand most of these books.

      Like

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