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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 esc 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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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 esc 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.

30 review for How to Read Literature Like a Professor

  1. 5 out of 5

    Riku Sayuj

    Read literature like a Pro: A Cheat-Sheet Foster comes across for the most part of the book as Captain Obvious, or rather Prof. Obvious and maybe even as Dr. Condescending, M.A., Ph.D., etc. But no matter how frustrated with the book I was at times, Foster does have a language that reminded me constantly of all my english professors and since I have always loved my literature classes and the teachers, it was easier to swallow. The book treats only very obvious and surface level things like 'if he Read literature like a Pro: A Cheat-Sheet Foster comes across for the most part of the book as Captain Obvious, or rather Prof. Obvious and maybe even as Dr. Condescending, M.A., Ph.D., etc. But no matter how frustrated with the book I was at times, Foster does have a language that reminded me constantly of all my english professors and since I have always loved my literature classes and the teachers, it was easier to swallow. The book treats only very obvious and surface level things like 'if he almost drowns then he is symbolically reborn' etc. He takes us through a variety of such things ‘hidden’ in literature that we should be on the lookout for to truly enjoy any reading. The only problem is that he never goes deep enough to let help a reader think analytically of what can be considered challenging literature. But sometimes obvious things are worth restating too and sometimes they help us develop a pattern of thinking that will eventually evolve by itself into what is really required. And that in the end might be the real goal of the book. In that sense Foster can consider it a reasonable success. So here is a quick list of easy things to watch out for when you read literature: 1) Every time a character in the book takes any journey/trip of any sort, start looking for tropes like gatekeepers, dragons, treasures etc. Chances are high that it is a mythic Quest of some sort. 2) If you come across a scene involving the characters eating together, especially if a whole chapter is dedicated to it, possibly it is being used to explore their relations and it is an act of Communion with all that the word implies. 3) Vampires exist, even when they don't. If it is not Twilight, chances are that it has literary significance. And if it does, the vampire figure is probably being used to hide a lot of sexual and societal undertones about chastity and selfishness. And even when a book has nothing to do with vampires, it would serve you well to identify vampires who suck others' blood to survive. 4) Sonnet is the most used type of poetry? - Frankly I am not sure why this chapter came in and how it helps the readers in anyway except to recognize when they meet a sonnet - they look square. 5) You will meet historical figures like Napoleon, Caesar and Gandhi in many guises even when the situation does not seem to indicate it. If you do recognize this hidden historical aspect of the character, then the story will acquire a new dimension 6) References and quotations from Shakespeare and Bible, including situations and entire plots abound in literature. (Duh) 7) Fairy tales form an important part of literature too and you might want to have a look-out for Hansel and Gretel's witch anytime people get lost in unfamiliar territory. 8) Greek symbolism and myths crop up everywhere and be ready for your author being a Homer in disguise trying to tell a modern version. And most of western literature taps this well-spring 9) Weather is always symbolic and Rain, Spring, etc. have deep rooted meaning which authors exploit consistently. If it is raining and things look gloomy, that might be irony or they might have heard of London (Foster doesn't seem to have). 10) When violence is used in a text, it is probably a plot device. So start thinking about why did he have to hit him with a baseball bat and not with a table lamp and why the character had to climb that mountain to die. 11) Almost everything that is repeated can be symbolic, even events and actions. There is no way to list them out so get in the habit of being paranoid. 12) Politics of the day inevitably seeps into any work and knowing that helps in understanding any prejudices which might not be acceptable today and also in understanding the real motivations. Who can read and understand Hemingway without knowing of his history? 13) Christ figures are everywhere and anytime anyone is even slightly noble be on the lookout for christ archetypes like disciples and sacrifice and betrayal. 14) If anyone flies or falls for too long, Icarus and his imaginary cousins are probably being invoked. 15) Lot of things can stand for sex and it is important to understand the meaning of tall buildings. If they write about sex when they mean strictly sex, we have another word for that - pornography. 16) If anyone gets wet in a book, they might change their life after that. They might be baptized into another life in short 17) Geography is probably the most important part of any novel. Geography and Season - think about why the author used that setting and the motifs of the novel will become clearer. 18) There is only One Story - whatever that means. 19) If any character has a scar (lightening?), it usually is a means to set him/her apart and the nature of the scar is symbolic. It could be scar/defect or ever a mild skin coloration - but it is a device to set up for greater things. 20) If a character is blind, ask what he is blind to or what others are blind to. It certainly is not just about physical sight. 21) Whenever any sort of illness comes in, it is usually a metaphor - especially if it is heart disease, TB (consumption), AIDS, Cancer or mysterious in some way. In literature disease is never caused by microscopic mundane things - it is caused by society and character. 22) Read any work from the time frame in which it was written. 23) Irony trumps everything else. If the author defeats your expectation with any symbol, he is so ironing you. This can work at many levels of course, he might defeat your expectation of being subject to irony by using the actual meaning and so on. So. Long list? Not if you read a lot. You can see all this in three days of light reading. In fact I am tending to be lenient in this review mostly due to that wonderful last chapter where he gives an example short story and analyses it. That one chapter makes the whole book worth reading. The reading list at the end is also useful and I have reproduced it here. But getting back to the means of analyses listed above. Were they too obvious? Or are you not confident that you will start spotting them from tomorrow? Either way, it might help us get into the habit as I said earlier and that is what really matters. The only way to catch on to all these devices and symbols is to be familiar with them. And the only way to do that? Read, of course. Read a hell lot. So you can see that you need to have read a lot. I mean a lot. And be very conversant with all the tropes and history of literature and myth to fully enjoy or critique serious works - that is, you need to have had a life dedicated to reading to enjoy reading. In other words, to read literature like a professor you need to be a professor of literature. Bingo. Insight PS. Of course the iterative growth in the pleasure of reading is known to every bookworm - we are addicted to books as it keeps getting better with every new book we read - the connections, the intertextuality and the by-lanes all become clearer and more and more FUN. PPS. Susan Sontag makes another arbitrary appearance, haunting my reading list.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    Thomas C. Foster - image from his site I have read more than a few books of this sort. This one stands above the crowd. While the material may not be particularly novel, it does pull together core truths about how literature can be understood, and communicates that information in a very accessible manner. It has made a world of difference in my approach to reviewing. I made my teenagers read this, back when they were actually teenagers. Particularly for anyone who reviews books, this is a MUST Thomas C. Foster - image from his site I have read more than a few books of this sort. This one stands above the crowd. While the material may not be particularly novel, it does pull together core truths about how literature can be understood, and communicates that information in a very accessible manner. It has made a world of difference in my approach to reviewing. I made my teenagers read this, back when they were actually teenagers. Particularly for anyone who reviews books, this is a MUST READ!!! First posted in 2008? Foster's personal site

  3. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Greendale

    Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend. How to Read Literature Like a Professor offers an extensive introduction to literary analysis for the purpose of finding deeper meaning in one's everyday reading. One of the central precepts of the book is that there is a universal grammar of figurative imagery, that in fact images and symbols gain much of their power from repetition and reinterpretation. Memory. Symbol. Pattern. These are the three item Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend. How to Read Literature Like a Professor offers an extensive introduction to literary analysis for the purpose of finding deeper meaning in one's everyday reading. One of the central precepts of the book is that there is a universal grammar of figurative imagery, that in fact images and symbols gain much of their power from repetition and reinterpretation. Memory. Symbol. Pattern. These are the three items that, more than any other, separate the professorial reader from the rest of the crowd. Chapters are divided into relatively similar page counts and, while each chapter explores a topic and provides helpful examples from literary works, the length of each chapter allows for digestion of information in small bites. Citing folklore, religious dogmas, and Greek mythology, the author delicately introduces varied or contrasting belief systems for interpretation of literature in an unoffensive and unbiased manner. Every reader's experience of every work is unique, largely because each person will experience various elements to differing degrees, and those differences will cause certain features of the text to become more or less pronounced. While this book provides a thorough examination of theme, symbols, and contexts, the author freely admits that it is by no means a complete compilation; one could hardly fit all elements of literary assessment, all interpretations of symbols, or all references to venerable lore into just one book. The writing is consistently comprehensive and entertaining, occasionally infused with Foster's personal quips and moments of charming self-deprecation. His points, whether serious or silly, are stated with eloquence. The author's examination of various classic works are liable to tantalize readers to pick up new reads, and a long list of recommended reads at the back of the book further encourage the accumulation of TBR books. Before the book reaches its end, the author tackles a difficult question: should we really give so much credit to writers by interpreting their works in such a special and meaningful way, especially when he/she hasn't been proven to be a good writer? His answer is illuminating and his conclusions ultimately encourage the examination of literature and the sharing of books and conversation such that we might all bring new perspectives to our shared experience. How to Read Literature Like a Professor is a highly recommended resource for unearthing the hidden meaning interwoven in books (and film).

  4. 5 out of 5

    Meagan

    Awesome. Simply awesome. I'd recommend it for any student who has ever asked the eternal question after being assigned some obscure piece of literature in an English class - "why the HELL DO I HAVE TO READ THIS?!" Trust me. Thomas C. Foster is your friend. He feels your pain. And he's here to help. As an English major, I have an intense love for books, obviously, even the classic texts that even I find a little hopeless and empty at times. But these essays help you to find the deeper meaning behi Awesome. Simply awesome. I'd recommend it for any student who has ever asked the eternal question after being assigned some obscure piece of literature in an English class - "why the HELL DO I HAVE TO READ THIS?!" Trust me. Thomas C. Foster is your friend. He feels your pain. And he's here to help. As an English major, I have an intense love for books, obviously, even the classic texts that even I find a little hopeless and empty at times. But these essays help you to find the deeper meaning behind the words and point out the little hints and signs that you can look for in order to make Oroonoko or Mrs. Dalloway seem a little less pointless. Furthermore, even as an English major with an intense love for literature, I am also a teenager, and I am fully aware that not every student in the world particularly wants to spend time reading a book about...books. But the thing with Foster is that he's funny, and he explains things with a rather dry sense of humor that I find simply wonderful. It is a rare thing to find a scholar with a sense of humor about their discipline. Especially those scholars that are passionate enough to write books. Informal, light, and truly fun to read. I read it in the span of one evening, so for a normal person (read: non-bibliophile. I call them "puggles." Like "Muggles," you know?) it would take about...a week? How do puggles measure time? How did I get to this point in my review? Anyway. Read it. You won't regret it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Daria

    "Lively and Entertaining" it is not. I think I fell asleep a grand total of three times trying to get through these meager 281 pages. Foster attempts to be all hip and conversational, but I think he does a pretty bad job of it, and ends up being even more condescending instead. All in all, it's not really a "guide" to reading between the lines (although we can all probably agree that it's hard to create a "guide" for anything literature-related). It's more like a bunch of examples about symbolis "Lively and Entertaining" it is not. I think I fell asleep a grand total of three times trying to get through these meager 281 pages. Foster attempts to be all hip and conversational, but I think he does a pretty bad job of it, and ends up being even more condescending instead. All in all, it's not really a "guide" to reading between the lines (although we can all probably agree that it's hard to create a "guide" for anything literature-related). It's more like a bunch of examples about symbolism here and weather-means-something there, pulled from the same body of work: "In Toni Morrison's Beloved, we see examples of baptism... in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, there are excellent examples of communion..." If you ever need to write a thesis on Toni Morrison, call up this guy. He has it all down. I only admired one line in the whole book: "(Shakespeare's) quotes are like members of the opposite sex; all the good ones are taken." Corny, but at least it forced a chuckle out of me.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Margitte

    This book is pure joy to read. While learning a few new secrets of writing, it was exciting to explore all the book titles mentioned in the book. The author uses a casual tone to introduce the magic of serious reading to the reader. Some of it is old news, others, instinct and common sense, such as recognizing patterns and story elements, but new information, for me at least, was also added. For instance, that many works attributed to Shakespeare might not have been his at all. Although I would lo This book is pure joy to read. While learning a few new secrets of writing, it was exciting to explore all the book titles mentioned in the book. The author uses a casual tone to introduce the magic of serious reading to the reader. Some of it is old news, others, instinct and common sense, such as recognizing patterns and story elements, but new information, for me at least, was also added. For instance, that many works attributed to Shakespeare might not have been his at all. Although I would love to share my views on the content of the book, since that is the most exciting part of it, I would restrict myself to the book itself. The chapter headings says it all: 1. Every trip is a Quest; 2. Nice to eat with you: Acts od Communion; 3. Nice to eat you: Acts of Vampires; 4. If it's square, it's a sonnet; 5. Now, where have I seen her before? 6. When in Doubt, it's from Shakespeare ...; 7. ... or the Bible; 8. Hanseldee and Greteldum; 9. It's Greek to me; 10. More than just rain or snow. ... and more of the same. And suddenly I am more excited than ever before, although I figured out some of these issues in the book already, like for instance, the borrowing from Greek mythology. In Light Between The Oceans by M.L. Stedman, the Greek god Janus formed the backbone of the story, and that characters such as Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, inspired many others in romance novels. We find Dracula in more than one storyline, and Shakespeare in a multitude of other contemporary novels - long before the Hogarth project was launched in 2016. Of course my recent favorite in this regard is Ian McEwan's Nutshell in which 'Fetus Cairncross' as I dubbed him, became Hamlet in utero, and the author was not even part of the Hogarth Project. The author highlights other books which royally borrowed from the greatest author of all times:QUICK QUIZ: What do John Cleese, Cole Porter, Moonlighting, and Death Valley Days have in common? No, they’re not part of some Communist plot. All were involved with some version of The Taming of the Shrew... If you look at any literary period between the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries, you’ll be amazed by the dominance of the Bard. He’s everywhere, in every literary form you can think of. And he’s never the same: every age and every writer reinvents its own Shakespeare. All this from a man who we’re still not sure actually wrote the plays that bear his name. Try this. In 1982 Paul Mazursky directed an interesting modern version of The Tempest. It had an Ariel figure (Susan Sarandon), a comic but monstrous Caliban (Raul Julia), and a Prospero (famed director John Cassavetes), an island, and magic of a sort. The film’s title? Tempest. Woody Allen reworked A Midsummer Night’s Dream as his film A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy. West Side Story famously reworks Romeo and which resurfaces again in the 1990s, in a movie featuring contemporary teen culture and automatic pistols. And that’s a century or so after Tchaikovsky’s ballet based on the same play. The BBC series Masterpiece Theatre has recast Othello as a contemporary story of black police commissioner John Othello, his lovely white wife Dessie, and his friend Ben Jago, deeply resentful at being passed over for promotion. The action will surprise no one familiar with the original. Nor is the Shakespeare adaptation phenomenon restricted to the stage and screen. Jane Smiley rethinks King Lear in her novel A Thousand Acres.I'm insanely thrilled with this book. For many of us it is impossible to attend literature lectures and have forgotten most of the ones we did honor with our presence, many years ago. So this is it. Read the book and become wiser. The information might not be unfamiliar to many of us, but it certainly deepens our experience of serious books. Then there is the many references to Bible stories, and once again, Ian McEwan, uses the wisdom of Solomon in his book The Children's Act to solve a serious situation when the Jehova's Witnesses and The State have to compromise on a minor child's life. So yes, I'm jumping up and down. Nothing is new, says the Bible, psychologists and sociologists. Remember the Pavlov experiments with dogs and mice? It is still used today to solve behavioural problems. No story is therefor new. It is just told differently as time goes on. The book made me think again. About a letter my mom once wrote me to warn me against a unsavory character trying to enter my life. She said nothing was new, the rules would always remain the same, only time and setting changed. The story line would not change, only the characters in it will have different names. She changed my life. I was nineteen years old and needed to know that when I did not recognize the difference between a he-hussy and a perfumed skunk. I was wondering if a person who never read Shakespeare, told his story, if it can be regarded as a Shakespearean 'borrow' if some elements to it was similar? Would it be fair? And someone who don't know the Bible could have a similar experience as a Bible character? Human behaviour patterns, different personality types, cultures, social mores and values play the most important role in how characters in a story will act or react. So yes, all stories happened before, it could be in real life or literature, but nothing is really new. It's only seasoned authors who might borrow from other stories, but real people in real life repeat behaviour based on genetic indicators and circumstantial impulses. Then there's human instinct to predict outcome. So, while the cognoscenti sleuth through a great novel, ordinary lay readers like yours truly do not have to do it. However, it might add a wonderful new dimension to the experience if we are experienced enough to know when it happens in the shaping and sustaining power of a story and the symbolism behind it. The author is passionate about his subject. He has a serious issue with the programmatic nature of political novels, just a certain type though, and and shares his views with the reader, no matter what.I hate “political” writing—novels, plays, poems. They don’t travel well, don’t age well, and generally aren’t much good in their own time and place, however sincere they may be. I speak here of literature whose primary intent is to influence the body politic—for instance, those works of socialist realism (one of the great misnomers of all time) of the Soviet era in which the plucky hero figures out a way to increase production and thereby meet the goals of the five-year plan on the collective farm—what I once heard the great Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes characterize as the love affair between a boy, and girl, and a tractor. Overtly political writing can be one-dimensional, simplistic, reductionist, preachy, dull. Don't we find those preachy dullness in too many novels nowadays? I like the idea of calling it programmatic. Word-dumping or information dumping were my favorite two concepts in addressing it. But I have something new to call it. :-)) There are too many authors, such as Edgar Alan Poe, Washington Irvine, D. H. Lawrence, Charles Dickens, Gabriel García Márquez, Virginia Wolfe, Toni Morrison, George Bernard Shaw, Seamus Heaney, Eavan Boland, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lord and so many more who masterfully incorporate politics into their prose. It is how it is done which matters. State of Fear by Michael Crichton comes to mind. My word, how this author rattled a few cages, right? And what about The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver; The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Yes, we have our exciting moments in prose! Oh yes, and The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, which had me a bit miffed-so programmized, Eoowwww! :-)) And don't ever forget Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses. Now talk about ruffled feathers, folks. Some authors know how to do it. Others don't. That reminds me to ask the question if chick lit is also so obviously programmatic? Not literature by any means, but still prose of some kind with often deeper undertones. Mmm... think about it, shall we? The difference between a murder/death in a murder mystery and a literary book was good to learn, even though, once again, common sense, although we seldom take the time to think about the symbolism in it. In getting hyped up about the content of How to Read Literature Like a Professor I quickly made a list of all my favorite characters in books. After many hours, I stopped when I realized how impossible it is to recall them all. I've read a few thousand books long before I joined GR, to begin with. And who will want to know anyway? I could just sat back in amazement though. How many authors introduced so much magic into my life by presenting amazing characters in their stories. It took a long time to read this book. Probably three weeks. More or less a chapter each day, with a few rereads in between. Not because it was boring or tedious. No, it was just so inspiring. I was constantly lured into exploring old books and new titles. Allow me to sneak in two of my favorite book endings: Rhet Butler - in Gone With The Wind author Margaret Mitchell: ----- "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" Professor Higgins - in the play My Fair Lady(Pygmalion) author George Bernard Shaw: -----Where the devil is my slippers, Elyze?" (Of course you realize that this play was named after a Greek mythological figure, Pygmalion who fell in love with his statue Galatea. Read the inspiring love story here: https://www.greekmyths-greekmythology... For young readers this is undoubtedly a wonderful introduction to literature, in so many ways. For all readers it is a rejoicing in excellent prose and the authors behind it. It strengthens the bond between the reader and the writer. Imagine having Thomas C. Foster as a house guest in your own library! Oh how short life would be at that very moment! Pity we will not be able to order another lifetime right that minute :-)) Well, before your eyes glaze over and your mind wander, let me stop. Enjoy this chatty, informative, entertaining read. It's worth your while. And then consider reading the book How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler, Charles Van Doren https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... And then tell me who your favorite characters in novels were. I'm simply dying to know! :-)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joy D

    This book is a non-fiction guide by a professor at the University of Michigan-Flint on how to approach literary reading with a goal of better understanding. It is primarily focused on literature (loosely defined as works related to the human condition or what it means to be human) from the mid-twentieth century and prior. Foster provides insight to help the reader recognize memory, symbol, and pattern, citing examples from notable works. He provides “a broad introduction to the codes and pattern This book is a non-fiction guide by a professor at the University of Michigan-Flint on how to approach literary reading with a goal of better understanding. It is primarily focused on literature (loosely defined as works related to the human condition or what it means to be human) from the mid-twentieth century and prior. Foster provides insight to help the reader recognize memory, symbol, and pattern, citing examples from notable works. He provides “a broad introduction to the codes and patterns that inform our readings.” The author desires to help readers decipher hidden meanings. He also admits that we can never know for sure what the author intended. Examples of topics include common themes, archetypes, metaphors, allegory, irony and more. A few specific content areas are examined in depth with supporting cases to show how to delve into the deeper meaning being conveyed, such as violence, sex, seasonality, weather, geography, markings, journeys, meals, and diseases. The author covers the widespread influences of Shakespeare, The Bible, fables, and Greek mythology. With a few exceptions, examples are derived primarily from British and American literature. Spoilers for these works are included to make his points. One area I found particularly enjoyable was the discussion of how the works in the literary canon are inter-connected, and that authors are influenced by what they have read, known as “intertextuality.” I also appreciated the idea of a reader’s imagination engaging the imagination of the author, who may have lived many years ago, thus giving the reader an idea of his or her world and a sense of historical perspective. Near the end, a short story written by Karen Mansfield is included, and the reader is invited to practice interpretation of the text using the principles previously provided. This book is written with humor, wit, and self-deprecation. The author does not claim to have all the answers and encourages readers to draw upon their own experiences. If a perspective is supportable in the work, it is valid. I appreciated the inclusion of a suggested reading list at the end. Recommended to people who enjoy analyzing what they read, students that need to read literature for classes, and life-long learners. Memorable Quote: “A reader’s imagination is the act of one creative intelligence engaging another.”

  8. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    EVERYTHING IS A SYMBOL. Okay, not really. But more things than not, at least when it comes to literature. I was hesitant to read How to Read Literature Like a Professor because I felt that I had not read enough classics to understand what Thomas Foster would be talking about - but then I realized that maybe it was a good idea to read the book before embarking on my literature quest, so I would have some background knowledge heading in. After all, knowledge is power. And I was right. Though a myria EVERYTHING IS A SYMBOL. Okay, not really. But more things than not, at least when it comes to literature. I was hesitant to read How to Read Literature Like a Professor because I felt that I had not read enough classics to understand what Thomas Foster would be talking about - but then I realized that maybe it was a good idea to read the book before embarking on my literature quest, so I would have some background knowledge heading in. After all, knowledge is power. And I was right. Though a myriad of the book titles went over my head and some of the examples were consequently confusing, for the most part I feel like I've learned a lot from reading this book. Granted, I'm a high school student, so I didn't know much to begin with, but I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves English, literature, or is interested in reading a book about books. As a bibliophile and self-proclaimed future English major, I loved learning about irony, allusions, and everything else Foster shared using his casual yet sophisticated writing style. Not a bad book to start out 2012 with. Now to move on to an actual novel... *review cross-posted on my blog, the quiet voice.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Christy Bailleul

    A fellow English teacher introduced me to this book quite a few years ago. I used it as our conversation text in my creative writing class. My students and I really enjoyed reading the sections and then discussing how we could see the ideas applied in books and movies. Symbolism in serious pieces of work is one of my favorite things to discuss. Sometimes symbolism is so clearly drawn that there is no mistaking an author’s purpose. Sometimes symbolism is like beauty - found in the beholder. Readi A fellow English teacher introduced me to this book quite a few years ago. I used it as our conversation text in my creative writing class. My students and I really enjoyed reading the sections and then discussing how we could see the ideas applied in books and movies. Symbolism in serious pieces of work is one of my favorite things to discuss. Sometimes symbolism is so clearly drawn that there is no mistaking an author’s purpose. Sometimes symbolism is like beauty - found in the beholder. Reading Literature Like a Professor would help someone not trained as an English teacher to find more depth and meaning in a piece. The chapters are easily digested but a reader who thinks about all the ways that you’ve seen a topic in a book, movie or TV show will give pause between chapters. I also love the quirky sense of humor and snarky comments from the author. If you love to study literature, then this is a book that can help with digging deeper.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Leo Walsh

    About a year ago, I took a MOOC (a Massively Open Online Course) on the site Coursera on fantasy literature. MOOC's grade via peer evaluations of your work. One of my papers traced the Garden of Eden symbolism in the opening of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. It is in the text, which made sense, since Carroll was a clergy member telling a coming of age story. And having taken university level upper-division lit courses, I knew the paper was well thought-out, supported by the text and About a year ago, I took a MOOC (a Massively Open Online Course) on the site Coursera on fantasy literature. MOOC's grade via peer evaluations of your work. One of my papers traced the Garden of Eden symbolism in the opening of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. It is in the text, which made sense, since Carroll was a clergy member telling a coming of age story. And having taken university level upper-division lit courses, I knew the paper was well thought-out, supported by the text and creative. Solid A-, maybe an A. Or a B+ if the teacher was having a bad day or was a hard grader. I got a B- from a peer, with a comment (not exact, but close) -- "Clear writing, but I don't like this sort of literary criticism. It's the same BS my high school English teacher tried to teach." The grader offered no argument from the text, highlighting passages contradicting my argument (if there were any, which I doubt). Nor did they offer a different interpretation of the Eden story. Instead, I did a classic bit of literary analysis and was graded by a person either ignorant of or hostile to classical literary analysis. And, despite the professor's video lectures, which employed the same classical literary analytical techniques I did, the student objected to the enterprise of literary critique. I was flummoxed. It seemed an odd statement and a petty reason for an average grade in a literature class, but it goes to the point that Thomas C. Foster makes in his well-written How to Read Literature Like and English Professor is trying to make. Which is that reading closely and writing about literature thoughtfully is an art. It takes experience, and intention. What's more, it often takes a classical education that few have these days. Since literary authors often steal from Greek myths, the bible, fairy tales, Shakespeare... in fact, they can take from anything ever written. This was a refresher for me, and I enjoyed it. Foster's style is informal and chatty, and while this can come across as patronizing, it made for easy reading. What's more, it reinforced the knowledge that I thought maybe was no longer taught in high school and college. At least as evinced by the comment I received from an anonymous person on my Through the Looking Glass analysis. Foster breezes through a ton of material here. From myth to baptism to biblical references. He also presents a cheeky, but honest answer to his students when they ask "is this a symbol?" Which is, "If you think it's a symbol, then it probably is." He then moves on to sex in literature, Freud and Jung's influence on both novels and literary criticism, and a healthy discussion of irony. But Foster uses two central ideas that bind the book together. The first is the idea of intertextuality, that every author is in conversation with writers in the past. Since I was first introduced to this idea in high school, it has continued to fascinate me. The second idea is mind-blowing, if maybe a little over-the-top for me: there's only one story, and all authors are writing different parts of it. Not sure if that's true, and it seems like cock and bull on one hand, but it's also intriguing. So, since I'm pretty sure I'd have gotten an A or an A- on my Through the Looking Glass paper were I to have submitted said paper to Foster, I'll rate How To Read Literature Like a Professor four stars... Just kidding. I'm giving it four-stars since it feels like the discussions that go on in undergrad lit classes. And because of that, it is important because it introduces readers to "why" literature professors often take such left-field interpretations on the books they cover in class.

  11. 4 out of 5

    K

    I loved this. Don't get me wrong. It's not one of those books you could, or would want to, read in one sitting. It's really more of a reference book, though an enjoyable one, written in a light and breezy style. I'm not sure someone who wasn't already interested in reading literature on multiple levels would be particularly interested. But if you do have an interest to read literature in a more sophisticated, insightful way (as I imagine many goodreaders do), you may enjoy this book as much as I I loved this. Don't get me wrong. It's not one of those books you could, or would want to, read in one sitting. It's really more of a reference book, though an enjoyable one, written in a light and breezy style. I'm not sure someone who wasn't already interested in reading literature on multiple levels would be particularly interested. But if you do have an interest to read literature in a more sophisticated, insightful way (as I imagine many goodreaders do), you may enjoy this book as much as I did. You'll never look at weather, heart disease, blindness, geography, or fiction altogether the same way again.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Cindy Rollins

    I avoided reading this book for a couple of years because I thought it would be everything I hate about higher education. That it would act like there was a secret handshake for reading. I ended up being pleasantly surprised by the light tone and enjoyable discussion of themes and tropes, although I did catch the prof in a few mistakes like claiming Henry V eventually had to hang Falstaff in Shakespeare, I believe it was either Pistol or another member of the old gang not Falstaff. The last chap I avoided reading this book for a couple of years because I thought it would be everything I hate about higher education. That it would act like there was a secret handshake for reading. I ended up being pleasantly surprised by the light tone and enjoyable discussion of themes and tropes, although I did catch the prof in a few mistakes like claiming Henry V eventually had to hang Falstaff in Shakespeare, I believe it was either Pistol or another member of the old gang not Falstaff. The last chapter analyzing a short story was fun and left me with much food for thought.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    Now that I've read this book, you may as well not bother trying to read my book reviews; yes, that's right, I will now be examining themes and motifs and character motivation and other things like that and I'll probably be writing such amazing stuff that no one else will be able to understand me. Like a professor, right? No, my days of "Uh, I liked it" or "Well, I don't know" are over; I'll be finding things like water imagery and mother archetypes and references to obscure lines fro Now that I've read this book, you may as well not bother trying to read my book reviews; yes, that's right, I will now be examining themes and motifs and character motivation and other things like that and I'll probably be writing such amazing stuff that no one else will be able to understand me. Like a professor, right? No, my days of "Uh, I liked it" or "Well, I don't know" are over; I'll be finding things like water imagery and mother archetypes and references to obscure lines from Ulysses. So if you want to try to understand even a glimmer of what I'm writing about, you may need to read this book, too. ;->

  14. 4 out of 5

    Abhimanu

    Worth a read. Also the reading list at the end is legit.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Antigone

    If you read more than five books a year, you've already learned what Professor Foster has to teach. And if you're like me, about halfway through you'll start asking yourself: Who wants to read literature like a professor? Why would anyone want to read literature like a professor? Isn't that a bit akin to learning how to have sex like the local prostitute? ("The main thing you have to remember here, Kiki, is to distance yourself from the act.") Perhaps we should all go to watchmakers with our que If you read more than five books a year, you've already learned what Professor Foster has to teach. And if you're like me, about halfway through you'll start asking yourself: Who wants to read literature like a professor? Why would anyone want to read literature like a professor? Isn't that a bit akin to learning how to have sex like the local prostitute? ("The main thing you have to remember here, Kiki, is to distance yourself from the act.") Perhaps we should all go to watchmakers with our questions about Time. Coroners with our questions about Death? If you plan on dating, living with or marrying an English Lit professor, this book would be a fine primer on what he does with his day. If you plan on being graded by an English Lit professor, this book would be a fine overview of her critical standard. Barring these two eventualities? Read like yourself.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Wiebke (1book1review)

    I finally finished this. It was waiting a long time for me to pick it up, and it was by no means related to the book not being good. I got this as a refresher mainly, since I left uni 10 years ago and sometimes a little reminder is nice. And I got exactly what I wanted in an easy to read and follow way. I think this book can function as an introduction to literary analysis as well as a fresh up. There are many examples given and everything is explained in everyday language, without complicated term I finally finished this. It was waiting a long time for me to pick it up, and it was by no means related to the book not being good. I got this as a refresher mainly, since I left uni 10 years ago and sometimes a little reminder is nice. And I got exactly what I wanted in an easy to read and follow way. I think this book can function as an introduction to literary analysis as well as a fresh up. There are many examples given and everything is explained in everyday language, without complicated terms. The only thing I should warn about is that it contains a lot of spoilers for literary works. I had read a fair amount of the books but not all of them. So if that is a problem for you, check out the appendix where there is a list of works he used.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Terri Lynn

    This is a very friendly book and I suspect the author is one of those feel-good professors who attract a lot of students to his classes because they are what is known as "easy A" classes. Sort of like an academic finger-painting class. He presumes that you an idiot and rather stupid. He's still chummy with you while thinking that and gives you plenty of pats on the head little boys and girls but this was supposed to be for college students. I went to an excellent elementary school in the 1960's This is a very friendly book and I suspect the author is one of those feel-good professors who attract a lot of students to his classes because they are what is known as "easy A" classes. Sort of like an academic finger-painting class. He presumes that you an idiot and rather stupid. He's still chummy with you while thinking that and gives you plenty of pats on the head little boys and girls but this was supposed to be for college students. I went to an excellent elementary school in the 1960's and we learned all of this there. The bottom line is that this book will NOT teach you to read literature like a professor. A professor has a PhD and this is very elementary. If you hope to read literature like a 5th grader, this is for you. Otherwise, I'd pass if you are serious about literature.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cathy DuPont

    Feeling like I needed to discover more insight and depth to my reading, I mentioned that fact to Goodreads friend Will Byrnes who suggested this book. (By the way, Will's reviews are very, very thoughful, popular and readable.) So I'm glad he did recommend it because it was such a great and painless way for me to understand the underlying thoughts and references of books I read. Broken into short chapters, it covers all areas that I could possibly think of although author and Professor Thomas C. Feeling like I needed to discover more insight and depth to my reading, I mentioned that fact to Goodreads friend Will Byrnes who suggested this book. (By the way, Will's reviews are very, very thoughful, popular and readable.) So I'm glad he did recommend it because it was such a great and painless way for me to understand the underlying thoughts and references of books I read. Broken into short chapters, it covers all areas that I could possibly think of although author and Professor Thomas C. Foster stated at the end (the chapter titled Envoi; (definition: the usually explanatory or commendatory concluding remarks to a poem, essay, or book)) that he could have written a book twice as long. Most of the readers I know who are not English majors, may not have known that term; I didn’t. Foster is a professor of English at the University Michigan at Flint, and teaches classic and contemporary fiction, drama, poetry creative writing and composition. With such credentials he certainly knows this subject and I can attest to that. Some chapter titles: • Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before? • When in Doubt, It’s from Shakespeare • It’s More Than Just Rain or snow • It’s All A bout Sex • …Except Sex • Is that a Symbol? Professor Foster appears to be a lighthearted individual and I would have loved to have been in one of his classes. He was able to break down into a layperson’s (or lay-reader) terms, difficult and complex thoughts many times with light, airy humor. In fact in the envoi he says “You’ve really been very good about all this, very sporting. You’ve borne my guff and my wisecracks and my annoying mannerisms much better than I have any right to expect.” The fact is that they didn’t annoy me one iota; they added to any tedium which I had initially expected. Prior to beginning the book I glanced at a number of reviews on Goodreads and Amazon and noticed more than one person say Professor Foster was condescending to the reader. I totally disagree with that opinion. Perhaps the reviewer attended many more English lit classes than I did and if so, perhaps they should have been reading something much more sophisticated, something more at their reading level, not the average reader, which I consider myself. Come to find out, this is required reading in our local high schools. That’s a good thing, reaching young readers. Wish I would have read this book years ago since my major was communications with poli-sci minor. Communications as a major covers writing for the masses, advertising, and well, you get the picture. And as we know, newspaper writing was and maybe still is, at the 8th grade level. Not many challenges at that level. Not berating my education, or related professions simply explaining why I didn’t take more English lit, composition or poetry classes and had never heard the word envoi that I can recall. A few, very few observations from the book that I took away: Trust your instincts; your conclusions cannot be wrong because they're based on your past experiences in life and your prior reading experience; at times the character names relate to the theme of the book so look at them carefully and if you read something in the names, you’re probably right; your past experience as a reader is related to your observation of what the author is saying (know I said that twice but it bears repeating); irony trumps all; ‘always’ and ‘never’ aren’t good words to use in literary studies; trust your gut; the real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge. I particularly love the last observation from Professor Foster, always about self-knowledge. The more you’ve read the more similarities you see and 'oh, I remember that; observations you can make. I have read some reviewers on other books criticize a book because they had to 'stop at the phone booth to make call' or the book was degrading to women or saying the book was 'dated." The reader must put themselves in the time in which the book was written. In Pride and Prejudice you wouldn’t expect a yellow cab to show at the door, would you? Think in the context of the period the book was writen, the societal mores of the time. Women didn’t always have the right to vote or to publicly voice their opinion. Books written in the early 1800’s would have women in a far different position within society and the written word. Become one in the era of the book. Professor Foster asks the question, “Okay, let’s say you’re right and there is a set of conventions, a key to reading literature. How do I get so I can recognize these? Same way you get to Carnegie hall. Practice.” Simple answer, practice, practice and more practice. My only regret which, of course, is no fault of the author, is that I have not read many of the books which he refers to as examples. Many of them were obscure and printed in the 1800’s and early 1900’s (or much earlier as Iliad and Odyssey) so I shouldn’t beat myself up over that. I was able to grasp his explanation though with his writing, enough for me to understand his explanation without reading the books. And I’m not and never will be an English lit major. Noticed on the back of the book, the author wrote How to Read Novels Like a Professor. I will definitely read that in the near future. Just started a Ross MacDonald, 1950’s hard-boiled fiction, The Drowning Pool. MacDonald is highly touted by many contemporary writers as being a writer who inspired them to pick up a pen and write (or sit in front of a computer like I’m doing now.) Although I've just read about a quarter of the book, can already see that reading this book has helped me to not "read with my eyes" which happens to be the name of a chapter. But noticed in the recesses of my mind, I'm understanding more as I read. I feel this book, did make me a better and more thoughtful reader so it accomplished its purpose. Thank you, Professor Foster. Enjoyed your class. Recommend it all my friends.

  19. 4 out of 5

    David

    Sometimes I wish I had been an English major. There are times when I think reading for a living and analyzing books and being well-read would have been the ideal life for me. Then I remember that being unemployed sucks. So I'm usually fairly happy with my life choices, but I do at times feel like I am not well-read enough. I spent most of my adolescence and early adulthood reading almost nothing but sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. I have been extremely dedicated to reading more in the past few year Sometimes I wish I had been an English major. There are times when I think reading for a living and analyzing books and being well-read would have been the ideal life for me. Then I remember that being unemployed sucks. So I'm usually fairly happy with my life choices, but I do at times feel like I am not well-read enough. I spent most of my adolescence and early adulthood reading almost nothing but sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. I have been extremely dedicated to reading more in the past few years, and have added many classics and literary works to my reading diet, though I'm still working my way through a lot of those "Really Important Books Everyone Should Read" lists and not expecting to get close to the end of them in my lifetime. So anyway, I would also like to be more informed as I read some of those Great Works. I'm pretty smart and well educated so I usually catch historical context and allusions and references to other works, but there is much depth in the best works that probably goes over my head. How to Read Literature Like a Professor is primarily a book about symbolism and finding it in books. Thomas Foster is (duh) a college professor, and he's trying to distill a lot of what he teaches in his entry-level undergraduate classes into an accessible book for the average reader. Thus, his chatty, jokey style is aimed at the reader who might be a little intimidated at the idea of being challenged by Serious Literature. Personally, I wanted a serious approach and could have stood a little more depth and less hand-holding, but when he gets down to the subject matter, Foster talks knowledgeably and reassuringly to an audience that wants to be culturally literate but suspects they might not be, which I guess includes me. What he does is go through a list of symbols and what they mean and how many, many authors throughout history have used them, and how to spot them as you are reading. It's heavily Western-centric, so the foundations of much of the literature he talks about most often harken back to the ancient Greek myths and/or the Bible. This is not a deliberate bias on Foster's part and it doesn't mean all the authors who use these symbols are necessarily upholding Greek and Biblical mythology as superior to all others, just that if you are writing in the Western tradition, you cannot escape them. So Foster talks about how every meal is a communion and how to recognize a Christ figure in literature. (If he were doing more of a comparative literature study, he might have pointed out how the Jesus story itself was just a recycling of older myths.... oh, see, maybe I am not so culturally illiterate after all!) He also discusses vampires, roads, quests, sex, weather, death, fairy tales, irony, and Shakespeare, among many other recognizable images and symbols to look for. His topics are (by his own admission) arbitrary and incomplete. Basically this book is a tutorial, and he ends it with a short story by Katherine Mansfield which he asks the reader to analyze, using all the tools he introduced earlier. Then he presents the results from a few of his students and his own analysis. Interestingly, they all hit some of the same themes but no one's analysis is the same and some come up with very different interpretations, which is the point: there is no "right" way to parse out what a story is "really" saying, though one should be able to spot some of the most obvious symbolism. It's a fun activity, and one I will probably find myself doing unconsciously as I read in the future. So did this book make me more culturally literate or a more perceptive reader? Well... maybe not, though it was a good introduction to looking for symbolism. I enjoyed it, though I could have wished for a little more depth. If you want some heavier reading that drills down more into a long list of books and what they mean (without the overtly lit-crit approach), I might recommend Jane Smiley's Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel. But I think I'm still glad I didn't major in English after all.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    Another journey through the literary landscape with a professor. This reminds me of some of the Great Courses I’ve listened to about the great books and how they will change your life or have changed the world etc. I always enjoy stuff like this because it gives me a chance to consider a whole bunch of literature that I probably will never get time to read myself. I feel like I’m cherry-picking some big ideas that will enrich my future reading, some of the archetypes and symbols that are baked i Another journey through the literary landscape with a professor. This reminds me of some of the Great Courses I’ve listened to about the great books and how they will change your life or have changed the world etc. I always enjoy stuff like this because it gives me a chance to consider a whole bunch of literature that I probably will never get time to read myself. I feel like I’m cherry-picking some big ideas that will enrich my future reading, some of the archetypes and symbols that are baked into literature that I often completely miss while taking stories at face value. It’s true enough, I think, that our reading can be greatly enriched if we’re conscious of all this symbolism, but I don’t think it’s essential. I wouldn’t have enjoyed the books I read if I had to consciously look for this stuff all the time, but it’s fun when you do notice it. I wonder if writers really worry about these things as much as they used to. Though I’m not a published author (just self-published) and I’ve never sold a word, I’ve written two novels and a handful of short stories and not once have I ever worried about massaging in symbols from the Bible or classical mythology or whatever. I just wanted to tell an entertaining story, even if I didn’t anticipate any mass audience. I guess it’s fair to admit that I have been influenced by all the stories I’d read before. Still, do best-selling authors today really worry about such things? Who knows? Some of them probably do. Professor Foster has an engaging way of writing that makes this journey through literary symbolism enjoyable and enriching. I recommend this one.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie "Jedigal"

    Ever wonder what it means when a character steps in a puddle? Why an author suddenly goes into great detail about some otherwise unimportant event? Well, why didn't you? If you read this book, you will. An avid reader (of both pulp and literature, in roughly equal measure) who never took a college literature class, I've always known I was not getting all I could from my reading. After reading this book, I know I am much better equipped. Just finished my second read of Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go" Ever wonder what it means when a character steps in a puddle? Why an author suddenly goes into great detail about some otherwise unimportant event? Well, why didn't you? If you read this book, you will. An avid reader (of both pulp and literature, in roughly equal measure) who never took a college literature class, I've always known I was not getting all I could from my reading. After reading this book, I know I am much better equipped. Just finished my second read of Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go", and was amazed at how much deeper I could see into it now. Thank you, T. Foster!! This book serves as a great introduction to some common symbolism to watch out for when reading good lit. It also introduces the reader to the phenomenon of "intertextuality" - where an author presents something in such a way that it raises echoes of a separate text in your mind. (A rather blatant example would be the movie "O Brother Where Art Thou?", which is based on Homer's Odyssey.) The author presents many examples. A good minority of them were familiar too me, and the rest, rather than being annoying, were enough to make me salivate in the contemplation of checking out these texts for myself. The style is conversational, and the auther, an English lit professor after all, admits to his foibles and pretensions in such a likeable and approachable way that the pages fly by. After applying what I've learned a little, I'll definitely be re-reading this text to absorb even more, and widen my horizons even further.

  22. 4 out of 5

    kayla ♡

    DNF not in the mood for this book so DNF until I feel like reading it WHICH HOPEFULLY WILL BE SOON

  23. 4 out of 5

    May Ling

    Summary: A great book for anyone who either loves literature or would like to be better able to unlock its secrets. This was given to me by an expert in reading as a part of getting me up to speed on reading comprehension. It explained so much in such a witty humorous way. I love that it broke down the most common of things that a fictional novel is trying to say. There are just so many tools and so many commonalities from book to book. I really had never thought of it. P 126 - This is the list o Summary: A great book for anyone who either loves literature or would like to be better able to unlock its secrets. This was given to me by an expert in reading as a part of getting me up to speed on reading comprehension. It explained so much in such a witty humorous way. I love that it broke down the most common of things that a fictional novel is trying to say. There are just so many tools and so many commonalities from book to book. I really had never thought of it. P 126 - This is the list of all the things that should relate to the story of christ. An excellent list, from agony to breadgiving, to children, etc. The number of bible reference from which much of English based fiction relates back to is huge! P. 234-235 - Don't read with your eyes speaks to the idea that you have to take on the character's point of view. This is likely the hardest. It also reminds me that Fiction is about empathy. From a more political perspective this book had many implications. First, it explained why reading comprehension, particularly of high literature, might be so unapproachable to many. The references likely are second nature to others as are the ways in which one might empathize with particular characters (white, rich and christian). It's not right or wrong, but it reminds me of why such a huge movement has happened to bring in more global literature.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ari D

    So I decided to take upper level English this year, resulting in a mandatory assignment to read this book and create chapter summaries for it. When I began reading this, I thought it wouldn't be that bad. The condescending title and forewarning in the introduction that this was meant for college students couldn't have seemed more inviting. I read through the first chapters with feelings of mostly boredom and occasionally surprise. I thought to myself early on, "I can do this. I once read a 660 p So I decided to take upper level English this year, resulting in a mandatory assignment to read this book and create chapter summaries for it. When I began reading this, I thought it wouldn't be that bad. The condescending title and forewarning in the introduction that this was meant for college students couldn't have seemed more inviting. I read through the first chapters with feelings of mostly boredom and occasionally surprise. I thought to myself early on, "I can do this. I once read a 660 page book for English. How hard could this be?" Apparently, much worse than I could have imagined. After about half way through, I began losing my motivation to read. The book became tedious and was more akin to a workout for my eyes than an experience that would open my mind to a new perspective. I learned how to over analyze in the first few chapters, but what follows those chapters is complete overkill. The author beats his points like a dead horse, belaboring his messages so much that I had to take several breaks from reading to maintain my sanity. Overall, I would give this a 0/10 pineapples, but since I'm being generous, I give it a 2/5 stars.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    I didn't finish this book but I read enough and spent enough time on it to count it as read in my opinion. If I spend over 4 hours reading something, I think I have a good idea what it is like. I can summarize this entire book in one sentence: Know the Bible, know Greek myths, read Homer, and read Shakespeare, then understand common sense and you will figure out what the symbols of things stand for in literature. I thought this was going to give me some new information but it was things I learned I didn't finish this book but I read enough and spent enough time on it to count it as read in my opinion. If I spend over 4 hours reading something, I think I have a good idea what it is like. I can summarize this entire book in one sentence: Know the Bible, know Greek myths, read Homer, and read Shakespeare, then understand common sense and you will figure out what the symbols of things stand for in literature. I thought this was going to give me some new information but it was things I learned in high school or it is so obvious. The main thing this book did for me was spoil a bunch of classic literature.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    This is a great guide for all of us who love to read but whose education was at the other end of the campus. His style is informal, chatty and humorous -- now that he has the cautiously curious in his room, he doesn't want to scare us off with concepts that seem dry or irrelevant. He wants to show us how to apply these ideas so that our deeper understanding of the book will take our enjoyment of it to a new plane. "Reading literature is a highly intellectual activity, but it also involves affect This is a great guide for all of us who love to read but whose education was at the other end of the campus. His style is informal, chatty and humorous -- now that he has the cautiously curious in his room, he doesn't want to scare us off with concepts that seem dry or irrelevant. He wants to show us how to apply these ideas so that our deeper understanding of the book will take our enjoyment of it to a new plane. "Reading literature is a highly intellectual activity, but it also involves affect and instinct to a large degree. Much of what we think about literature, we feel first. Having instincts, though, doesn’t automatically mean they work at their highest level. Dogs are instinctual swimmers, but not every pup hits the water understanding what to do with that instinct. Reading is like that, too. The more you exercise the symbolic imagination, the better and quicker it works." He illustrates his ideas with numerous works of different types, and doesn't restrict them to the classics. Popular modern books (eg Inspector Banks) are as easily discussed as the traditional classics and are mixed in with occasional movies too. "... when writers send characters south, it’s so they can run amok....Conrad’s visionaries, Lawrence’s searchers, Hemingway’s hunters, Kerouac’s hipsters, Paul Bowles’s down-and-outers and seekers, Forster’s tourists, Durrell’s libertines—all head south, in more senses than one". For instance, vampires and other monsters are explained in terms of "...exploitation in its many forms. Using other people to get what we want. Denying someone else’s right to live in the face of our overwhelming demands. Placing our desires, particularly our uglier ones, above the needs of another." The vampire/monster thinks, ' In order to remain undead, I must steal the life force of someone whose fate matters less to me than my own.' Foster says, "I’ve always supposed that Wall Street traders utter essentially the same sentence. My guess is that as long as people act toward their fellows in exploitative and selfish ways, the vampire will be with us." You can't go wrong with someone who can so easily link vampires with Wall Street.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Manan Desai

    I was apprehensive before buying this book. I did not want to study literature like a literary critic. I couldn't care less about any of the multitudes of literary theories. I just want to enjoy literature. My staple in fiction is classics and literary fiction. I always felt something missing when reading them. I wanted to know why Lawrence is considered a master of literary symbolism, why Hemingway and Fitzgerald have earned their stellar reputation. I did a little research on what to read to und I was apprehensive before buying this book. I did not want to study literature like a literary critic. I couldn't care less about any of the multitudes of literary theories. I just want to enjoy literature. My staple in fiction is classics and literary fiction. I always felt something missing when reading them. I wanted to know why Lawrence is considered a master of literary symbolism, why Hemingway and Fitzgerald have earned their stellar reputation. I did a little research on what to read to understand literature better and this book came to my notice. In many of the reviews, it was stated that even teachers in schools are basing their whole classes on this book. So, I finally bought it. I'm extremely glad I did. This book has none of the literary theory that is staple of all undergraduate and post-graduate courses in literature in any language. The author explains in very simple and enjoyable language how hidden meanings, subtexts and allegories are hidden in most literary fiction. The author gives numerous examples throught the book ranging from Homer and Sophocles to Colum McCann and Edna O'Brien. Author explains how to spot allegories of Jesus Christ, what weather, disease, getting drenched, sex, absence of sex, seasons, heroes and many more symbols mean. I had read Old Man and the Sea many years back. I had loved it then. I could read it again if somebody asks. But by reading this book, I came to know that it is near perfect allegory for Jesus Christ. This book explains what the famed fighting scene in Lawrence's Women in Love and eating scene in Henry Fielding's Tom Jones mean. I came to recognize Homeric elements in the movie Wonder Woman. I recognized that tv series Midnight, Texas (Based on Charlaine Harris's trilogy of the same name) is also an allegory of Christ. Despite enumerating various methods to recognize hidden meanings in literature, the author emphasizes that a single piece of literature could mean different things to different readers. In penultimate chapter he instructs readers to own what they read. The author asks his readers to stop applogizing for what they read. As Stephen King says in his On Writing, "Writing begets writing". No matter what you read, as long as it is fiction, this book will help you understand it better. Everyone who loves to read fiction should read this book. In fact, after reading it, I have sought out a few more books of the kind.

  28. 5 out of 5

    raffaela

    Foster's central thrust is that all literature is part of one story, and in its thousands of iterations and re-tellings there are archetypes, tropes, and patterns that continually reappear and have significance for how we should analyze and interpret the work (e.g., weather and seasons, characters with illnesses, characters with physical deformities, sharing a meal, and so on). Most of the book fleshes out these archetypes, defining what they mean and referring to different works that use them, Foster's central thrust is that all literature is part of one story, and in its thousands of iterations and re-tellings there are archetypes, tropes, and patterns that continually reappear and have significance for how we should analyze and interpret the work (e.g., weather and seasons, characters with illnesses, characters with physical deformities, sharing a meal, and so on). Most of the book fleshes out these archetypes, defining what they mean and referring to different works that use them, and I found it to be a helpful reminder - I think I kind of know some of this subconsciously, but that doesn't mean I always consciously pick up on it when I'm reading. Foster doesn't take his argument quite this far (though I wish he had), but, as Tolkien spells out in his Tolkien on Fairy-stories, the reason why there's only one story is because we are all part of God's ultimate story of creation, fall, and redemption, and everything is derived from that. The different tropes or archetypes are merely bits of the literary "soup." Anyway, not including that isn't really a fault of this book, but what is more of a fault (for me at least) is that Foster seems to focus most heavily on 20th-century writers in his analysis, which is just the writers I don't personally care for as much. So that made the book fall somewhat flat for me, but that's okay. I still enjoyed it and will keep its main points in mind as I read, which was the point.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Britta Böhler

    Highly enjoyable, accessible (and still educational) book about how to read between the lines, i.e. interprete symbols in literature. Not at all pretentious and, although the examples are mostly from American/English literature, recommended to readers from all literary backgrounds.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ana

    It could have been a little shorter, but it's a great refresher/ introduction into literary themes and symbolism. It could have been a little shorter, but it's a great refresher/ introduction into literary themes and symbolism.

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