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

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  23,725 ratings  ·  2,499 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 November 14th 2014 by Harper Perennial (first published February 18th 2003)
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Popular Answered Questions
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)
Kelly I know this question is several years old at this point (I hope your annotations went well!) and it has been a hot minute since I have read either boo…moreI know this question is several years old at this point (I hope your annotations went well!) and it has been a hot minute since I have read either book, but these are examples I could think of:

-"Every Trip is a Quest": you could make the argument that Fangirl is a quest story. Cather's a freshman (a quester) who moves to college away from her home (a place to go) to earn a degree (a stated reason to go there) has difficulty fitting in, handling her anxiety, doing well in her classes (Challenges and Trials), and ends the book learning how to be more independent and confident in herself (the real reason to go)
-"Geography Matters": talk about how the college location contrasts Omaha where the girls are originally from. How does Cather view both places throughout the story, and what does this reveal about her character?
-"Nice to Eat with You" I remember there was a subplot about Cather only eating peanut butter and protein bars in her dorm and fearing the cafeteria for some reason (again, it's been a hot minute). I'm pretty sure there were scenes later on in the story, however, wherein Cather ends up eating there with other students and in the process she gets to know them and comes out of her bubble a little bit (or maybe I'm making that up. Again. A hot minute).
- I have this nagging feeling there was a scene in the story where Cather is caught in the rain, but I might be making that up. If so, rain = transformation/cleansing. How has Cather changed in that scene?

I would actually argue that some of Foster's chapters like "It's Never Just Heart Disease.. and Rarely Just Illness" does not apply to Fangirl, because a lot of contemporary lit (esp. YA lit) actively subverts traditional tropes. For example, much contemporary lit tries to destigmatize illness. As Foster explains in his book, society tends to be pretty ableist and makes harmful assumptions about people with disabilities or sickness, and many canonical texts play into these ideas by using deformities and illnesses to imply character flaws. Much of today's literature, such as Fangirl imo, tries to undo this. So I don't think Cather's father's bipolar disorder would count as an indication of a character flaw nor Wren's alcoholic tendencies. (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
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
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
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 behi
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 symbolis ...more
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
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 ...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 myria
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 ...more
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
Cindy Rollins
Jun 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, audiobooks
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 ...more
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 fro
Oct 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Worth a read. Also the reading list at the end is legit.
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 que
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
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 term
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.
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 ...more
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 year ...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 Go"
kayla ♡

not in the mood for this book so DNF until I feel like reading it WHICH HOPEFULLY WILL BE SOON
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 o
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 p ...more
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
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
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
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
Britta Böhler
Jan 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016, non-fiction
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.
It could have been a little shorter, but it's a great refresher/ introduction into literary themes and symbolism. ...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.

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