Friday, May 10, 2013

How To Read Literature Like a Professor- by Thomas C. Foster

Finishing this book felt like saying au revoir to a friend after having had a particularly satisfying discussion with them; to an extent you wish you didn't have to go, but at the same time you feel mentally sated. Thomas Foster really does feel like a friend when you're reading through his book. He speaks straight to you, the reader, and he doesn't take himself too seriously, either. He's a professor yes, but he cedes multiple times throughout the book that being a professor does not mean his word is law, particularly in literature, since it can be interpreted so many ways. Instead, in How To Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster provides a comprehensive guide to approaching works of literature, outlining the checklist of things to consider when reading, and he goes about it all in a patient and entertaining manner.

How To Read Literature Like a Professor, is, basically, an extremely condensed college course in literature. Foster spends a few pages explaining topics ranging from interpretations of the seasons to the appearance of baptism in it's many forms. The first chapter is a nice, soft lead-in to the book, talking about how most trips are quests. I'm pretty sure that he started the book this way because you can immediately put identifying quests to use; they pop up everywhere. The night I started reading this book I watched Django Unchained, and almost immediately I jerked my pointer finger at the tv and shouted "THIS IS A QUEST FOSTER SAYS SO" But soon after Foster delves into less obvious interpretations and themes; one of his next chapters is about vampires in literature, and yet the examples he uses are not pulled from Stephanie Meyer or Anne Rice. Not even Bram Stoker. No, he references "Daisy Miller", about a young woman who is struggling in a romance with someone in a different social system than her, and although this might not sound like an ooky spooky vampire tale, as Foster explains further, you realize the clues are as plain as day- the older man who is sucking the life force from a younger woman, etc. Throughout the chapters, the reader is provided with an array of examples from literature, and the list of sources at the back of the book is a dozen pages long, and it helps to elucidate his points, as well as makes you want to read more than a few titles he mentions.

I've mentally dubbed this "The Reader's Textbook", and like math, or science, it's good to read the textbook before getting into quadratics or conducting an experiment. I promised myself that I wouldn't read any other books until I finished this one, because I feel like there's so much to understand that I didn't even pick up on before reading this. I really wish that I had been introduced to this book earlier; there are so many books that I'm absolutely certain I haven't appreciated to their full potential simply because so much of the subtlety went right over my head. I would say this book is a must-read, and is the newest addition to my list of favorites. But the message it really sends, at the end of the day, is that to be a good reader, as with anything, you have to practice. The more you read, the better a reader you will be.

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