How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines
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How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  8,050 ratings  ·  1,065 reviews
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...more
Paperback, 314 pages
Published February 18th 2003 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2003)
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Community Reviews

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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...more
Jan 14, 2008 Meagan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone taking any kind of English class. Anyone.
Shelves: 5stars
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...more
"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...more
Stephanie "Jedigal"
Mar 25, 2013 Stephanie "Jedigal" rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Literature fans wanting to go more in-depth
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"...more
So I was pretty excited upon starting this book. There's been a lot of good reviews about this, both on here and from people I know.

It started out pretty good, but by the second chapter, I was getting irritated with the author. I continued on, since I have to read this for school, and it annoyingly got worse, then a little better in the middle, and finished okay at the end.

I had three main problems with the Mr. Foster:

1) He was very condescending to his readers. There were a lot of moments in...more
Jan 22, 2013 K rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who want to write more insightful goodreads reviews
Recommended to K by: aPriL MEOWS often with scratching Gavey
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...more
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...more
Cathy DuPont
Oct 27, 2012 Cathy DuPont rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: All readers who want more understanding
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....more

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...more
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...more
My chief complaint, although more my fault than the “non textbook, with How to Read Literature Like a Professor is that most of the novel, plays, and poems Foster discusses I have not read. In fact, I only recognized three of the works he mentioned; Animal Farm, Hamlet, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Therefore, I found it hard to understand exactly what Foster was trying to say through his examples and his connections from one example to another.

And I feel like, since this was required...more
Dec 10, 2011 David rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Unemployed English majors, Employed non-English majors
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...more
I read this mostly out of curiosity -- with my BA behind me and my MA in progress, I didn't have much to learn from Foster. To me it's obvious that a garden will conjure up Eden, that the sharing of food is a kind of communion, that a lot of things are metaphors for sex. It doesn't seem to require professorial level training to me, though I went to university in the UK and this book is very explicitly aimed at people from the US. So maybe the expectations for the skill set for a graduate are dif...more
Do you want to read like a Professor? Want to second guess every meal, sex scene, or harmless deformity? Want to perspire heavily while over-analyzing a book you would've otherwise enjoyed? Then this book is for you!

All jokes aside this is a pretty interesting read. It sheds some light on commonly used symbols and stories. The idea of intertextuality being an ever present factor in literature seems logical and accurate when Foster brings up examples like The Bible or The Odyssey.

In summation: s...more
Didn't learns as much as I hoped to; I guess I'm smarter than I thought.

P.S. Rereading this review a few days later, I realizes I is not only smart, but a good grammortition as well.
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...more
My son was assigned this book to read over the summer (he will be in the 10th grade). He loves to read but when I saw the title of this book I thought, He will never get through it. I read the books he is assigned and never had an issue with any of them until now. I did read it from cover to index.

This is not a book any child should read! For many reasons. Foget about the big words that I didn't even know because I would encourage him to look them up. This book is full of things I don't want my...more
Glen Engel-Cox
A better subtitle to this book might be "Understanding Symbology," but then you would miss the "lively" and "entertaining" part of the current subtitle, and that shouldn't be thrown away. This is probably the best book I've ever read about the ugly task of decoding literature, and I would highly recommend it as a graduation present for any high school student who plans to attend college. It's that good. Foster is no dry academic, although his taste still runs to the rather mundane type of litera...more
Lauren Prye
A real literature professor talks about how to read real literature.

QUICK QUESTION: I’m walking down the road and suddenly I fall into a pond. What happens?
You drown?
Thanks for the vote of confidence.
Or you don’t?
That pretty much covers it. Now what does it mean?

I read this while Goodreads was crashing today (RIP 5/2/2014). I picked it up at random- but I was grateful afterwards. On the other hand, I didn't quite finish it, because it was in the used bookstore and I can't live in a books...more
Alternate title: How To Talk About Literature Like You Have An Enormous Goddamn Stick Up Your Butt.

I can't decide whether I like this book or not, so I suppose it's really a 2.5 star-er.
While Mr. Foster does make some really good points, he also is handicapped by the fact that he is writing exclusively for an American audience- often the conversational style will reference something like the 'nation' to which 'we' belong, or at one point 'this great republic'. This, to a more... shall we say, se...more
This book was kind of funny to me. The author is like, "xyz MEANS something! Symbolism abounds. NO?? YOU DOUBT?? Blah blah blaaah blah!!" For me, I know that "xyz means something" and symbolism is everywhere, so I needed no cajoling. I was raised by an English professor--one who wrote his dissertation on Joyce, of all authors, and got his PhD from the University of Iowa, of all places. A lot of times I felt like what the author was saying was beyond obvious, just completely apparent. I'm not sur...more
If you're going to read a book on literature analysis, it might as fell be an insightful and enjoyable one instead of one that wants you make to gouge your eyes out. How to Read Literature Like a Professor is an insightful introduction to the secret meanings behind literature, how to uncover them, and what makes great literature, while teaching us to read between the lines--because nothing can be taken at surface value. This book may not convince you to like reading literature, but it will defin...more
Will Byrnes
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 is seen and communicates that information in a very accessible manner. I made my teen-agers read this.
Malxox ♥
The process in which I went through reading this book cannot be described with words. Lucky for the both of us.

Warning: this will probably make absolutely no sense.

[To just ...]

[Mal go do your homework!]

[*runs upstairs*]

[Picture me staring at the book ... For twenty minutes]


[Takes tremendous break]

[Give me another hour]

Or basically Rapunzel's bipolar meltdown. That's the book. Tootles. Tata. Hope you don't have to read it, I analyze freaking EVERYTHING NOW. Yeah, thanks, nice to meet...more

Why didn't I read this before high school? Now I have to go back and re-read everything.


One of the old French philosophers and wits, Blaise Pascal, apologized for writing a long letter, saying, “I had not time to write a short one.” Sonnets are like that, short poems that take far more time, because everything has to be perfect, than long ones.

The more we become aware of the possibility that our text is speaking to other texts, the more similarities and correspondences we begin to notice,...more
Although I am an avid reader and consider myself pretty well-read, I constantly look at other reviews and wish that I had the insight that others seem to have. Granted, many of the reviews that I look at are from people who have studied literature at college and/or university, but there are many people who just seem to know what they're talking about. More than I do, anyway. So I decided to start to rectify that and this book came with recommendations from friends.

This book really does start wit...more
Cheryl in CC NV
Ok, I'm done. There's a lot I could talk about here, but I'm tired. It's been difficult to decide how much I'm 1. benefiting from this and 2. enjoying it and 3. enthusiastic about recommending it. It is easy to read, and to learn from. Foster did a good job of doing *exactly* what the title promises.

But the thing is, he also revealed, to me, that I don't actually *want* to read that kind of Literature. Nor do I *want* to read 'like a professor.' Yes, I want to enjoy the classics more. But this...more
Lisa Lewis
How to read Literature like a Professor is the best non-fiction book I’ve read this summer. Okay, I confess, it’s also the only non-fiction book I’ve read this summer. Now that you’re smiling...let me say to you, “Go out and buy this book if you’re a teacher of English, or you just want to read between the lines while reading for pleasure.”
Within this book, Thomas C. Foster makes reading non-fiction totally enjoyable. His use of humor and “voice” made me feel as though I was almost in one of hi...more
Daniel (Attack of the Books!) Burton
It's a rare day that I'm willing to give a full five out of five stars to a book. It's rarer still that I'll give the five stars, and then put it back on my bed-stand for continual reference in my future reading.

It's just that kind of a book, and every bibliophile should read it.
In "How to Read Literature like a Professor," Thomas Foster has given us a delightful little romp through literature, producing a guide to the themes, symbolism, ironies, allusions, and plots that reoccur through-out alm...more
Aug 10, 2010 Annie rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Annie by: Catherine
Shelves: non-fiction
My Goodreads reviews may just get a bit lengthier, after finishing this book, I may be able to provide more insight into the literary works I read. Collective sigh from all my friends. This book reads like you are sitting in on a class with the author, who is a professor of literature at the University of Michigan. His writing style is very conversational. He argues that there is no such thing as a wholly original work of literature. He also asks readers not to read with their own eyes, but read...more
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Thomas C. Foster is Professor of English at the University of Michigan, Flint, where he teaches classes in contemporary fiction, drama, and poetry as well as creative writing and composition. Foster has been teaching literature and writing since 1975, the last twenty-one years at the University of Michigan-Flint. He lives in East Lansing, Michigan.

In addition to How to Read Novels Like a Professor...more
More about Thomas C. Foster...
How to Read Novels Like a Professor: A Jaunty Exploration of the World's Favorite Literary Form Twenty-five Books That Shaped America: How White Whales, Green Lights, and Restless Spirits Forged Our National Identity How to Read Literature Like a Professor: For Kids Understanding Novels Seamus Heaney

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“Always" and "never" are not words that have much meaning in literary study. For one thing, as soon as something seems to always be true, some wise guy will come along and write something to prove that it's not.” 11 likes
“Education is mostly about institutions and getting tickets stamped; learning is what we do for ourselves. When we're lucky, they go together. If I had to choose, I'd take learning.” 10 likes
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