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How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide… (2003)

von Thomas C. Foster

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3,604782,682 (3.88)146
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.… (mehr)
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A great starting point for those who want to read literature on a deeper level. Concise (but not overwhelming), irreverent (but not subversive), and fun (but not--at least in my opinion--off-putting). Even if you’re a veteran of literary criticism, I submit that you will enjoy Foster’s take on the enterprise. Bravo, to a true teacher!

(The following are my notes as part of a survey of books about reading; this is not a review.)

The elements at play when reading like a professor:
1. Memory: "Whenever I read a new work, I spin the mental Rolodex looking for correspondences and corollaries.” (xxvii)
2. Symbol: “Everything is a symbol of something….” (xxvii)
3. Pattern: “…veterans…find the patterns, the routines, the archetypes at work in the background.” (xxix)

The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge. (3)

Whenever people eat or drink together, it’s communion. (8)

Ghosts and vampires are never only about ghosts and vampires. (18)

There’s no such thing as a wholly original work of literature. (24)

There’s only one story. (27)

When in doubt, it’s from Shakespeare or the Bible. (32, 42)

“…we want strangeness in our stories, but we want familiarity too. (58; Freud’s uncanny)

Weather is never just weather. E.g. Rain: drowning, plot device, atmosphere, democratic; cleansing; baptism; purification. (70-71)

“…some symbols do have relatively limit range of meaning, but in general a symbol can’t be reduced to standing for only one thing. If they can, it’s not symbolism, it’s allegory.” (105)

Steps for dealing with a symbol: (1) What is the symbol, in general? (2) Are there literary precursors? (3) How does the current author use the symbol?

Nearly all writing is political on some level. (118)

“…to get the most out of your reading of European and American literatures, knowing something of the Old and New Testaments is essential.” (125)

Look out for Christ figures.

“Flight is freedom.” (136)

Freud opened our eyes to sexual symbolism. (143)
“When [writers are] writing about other things, the really mean sex, and when they write about sex, they really mean something else.” (152)

“Literary geography is typically about humans inhabiting spaces, and at the same time the spaces inhabiting humans.” (174)

“When writers send characters south, it’s so they can run amok [and encounter their subconscious].” (179)

“I suppose what the one story…is about is ourselves, what it means to be human.” (194)

“…physical markings by their very nature call attention to themselves and signify some psychological or thematic point….” (208)

“If you want your audience to know something important about your character (or the work at large), introduce it early, before you need it.” (213) ( )
  chrisvia | Apr 29, 2021 |
This is a great book because it shows very simply why all stories as vitally connected. Stories refer and allude to one another, always. I will never approach novels the same way again because I will remember to look for others who have told similar stories, and remember that others inspired the work. ( )
  danrk | Jan 10, 2021 |
I picked this up on a whim in a book store, and I really enjoyed it, even though it took me a while to finish. The author goes through a lot of ways to look at and analyze stories. For example, similarities to Shakespeare, folk tales, the Bible, as well as how you can interpret seasons, weather, illness and more. There are lots of examples from both older and newer books, as well as examples from movies (like Raiders of the Lost Ark).
It is very well written, and both funny and insightful. At the end there is a short story, followed by three different analyses of it, and I really liked that. In the appendix, there is an extensive reading list of recommended books.

( )
  Henrik_Warne | Dec 13, 2020 |
I found this book while on a search for a good introduction to literary criticism. This seemed to hit the mark. In it, Foster pursues hard-core analysis of the literary project while spinning a down-to-earth persona (which was obviously well-honed while in a classroom). I was not let down.

One can see why Foster's work is popular among Advanced Placement English teachers in America. He presents himself as one of us (i.e., American and not British), only with a deep erudition of literature. He invites us to see literature symbolically with the emotional weight of the literary tradition on our backs. We begin to see everyday literature as an intertextual conversation amongst the ages, where writers borrow ideas from each other and analyze each other's tomes.

Foster tackles topics like the weather, sex, irony, journeys and quests, and more. As the subtitle tells us, he teaches us to read between the lines as professors do. I hope that reading between the lines will lead to a greater efficacy of writing so that others can read between the lines as well.

Underlying this book is Foster's theory that increasing literary appreciation will lead to greater enjoyment of books. I suspect that he is right on. ( )
  scottjpearson | Jan 25, 2020 |
Initially, I thought that this book was going to be rather hard going. But a couple of chapters in he had me quite engrossed. His chapter 4: If it's square it's a sonnet"...was quite delightful. And I really liked the way that he focused on the parallels that we should look for in literature; to the greek myths; to Shakespeare; to the bible for quotes and storylines. Obviously, it helps a lot to be steeped in some of these ...and as he points out....past generations were steeped in the King James version of the bible. (Which, incidentally, was deliberately written (translated) to be read out loud). I like his chapter on symbols....yes it's a symbol;...but everyone's interpretation of symbols is coloured by the own experience. And, "A road is never just a road"....it's about a journey.
I think he does a really good job of showing just how professors of literature do approach their reading and how it's possible to use the same techniques in analysing prose or poetry ...and maybe thereby score a higher mark for our essays. Ot even just get a lot more out of the particular work.
Happy to give this five stars. Worth re-reading. ( )
1 abstimmen booktsunami | Nov 17, 2019 |
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AutorennameRolleArt des AutorsWerk?Status
Thomas C. FosterHauptautoralle Ausgabenberechnet
de Vries, DavidErzählerCo-Autoreinige Ausgabenbestätigt
Gubkin, Sarah MayaGestaltungCo-Autoreinige Ausgabenbestätigt
Taylor, JarrodUmschlaggestalterCo-Autoreinige Ausgabenbestätigt
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The amazing thing about books is how they have lives of their own.
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Okay, so here's the deal: let's say, purely hypothetically, you're reading a book about an average sixteen-year-old kid in the summer of 1968.
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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 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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