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How to Read Literature Like a Professor
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How to Read Literature Like a Professor

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  19,527 ratings  ·  2,253 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 ...more
Paperback, 314 pages
Published November 14th 2014 by Harper Perennial (first published February 18th 2003)
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daniblues Lo más cercano que he encontrado ha sido "Manual de literatura para caníbales" (Ed. Debate, 2006) de Rafael Reig, recientemente reeditado y del que se…moreLo más cercano que he encontrado ha sido "Manual de literatura para caníbales" (Ed. Debate, 2006) de Rafael Reig, recientemente reeditado y del que se ha anunciado un segundo volumen para finales del 2016. En catalán, "Un son profund" de Enric Iborra. Gracias a los dos por responder. (less)
Alanna According to the introduction in the revised version, he fixed some things and removed the chapter on sonnets. He also "added a chapter on…moreAccording to the introduction in the revised version, he fixed some things and removed the chapter on sonnets. He also "added a chapter on characterization and on why being buddies with protagonist is so bad for the health of second discussion on public versus private symbols" and "a meditation on taking charge of one's own reading experience". I'll leave it to you whether or not it's worth hunting down the new version.(less)

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Riku Sayuj
Feb 09, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Will Byrnes
Oct 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.

Revised and re-released - May 16, 2017
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 items
Jan 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Aug 12, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: school-assigned
"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 ...more
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 ...more
Dec 27, 2011 rated it really liked it

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
Oct 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Worth a read. Also the reading list at the end is legit.
Leo Walsh
Mar 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jan 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Jul 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Cindy Rollins
Jun 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooks, 2019
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 ...more
Wiebke (1book1review)
Sep 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Oct 16, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: craft

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
Terri Lynn
Mar 04, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Stephanie "Jedigal"
Nov 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
kayla ☕ (hiatus)

not in the mood for this book so DNF until I feel like reading it WHICH HOPEFULLY WILL BE SOON
Cathy DuPont
Oct 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
May Ling
Jul 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
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
Ari D
Aug 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Oct 27, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-19, books
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, ...more
It could have been a little shorter, but it's a great refresher/ introduction into literary themes and symbolism.
Oct 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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 ...more
Britta Böhler
Jan 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2016
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.
Mar 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
I picked this book up in October or November, so it's taken me quite a while to get through this book. This is not to say this isn't an excellent book; I'm honestly not sure why this dragged on. It might be because this book is simply saturated with information and ideas.

In this book, Foster identifies elements and patterns in literature, such as common symbols and allusions to other works of literature or culture, and demonstrates how they add to a novel's complexity in message. Foster makes
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,
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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
“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.” 31 likes
“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.” 23 likes
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