Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Book Review: How to Read Literature Like a Professor

Have you ever read a story or watched a movie and knew something more was going on than what you were reading or seeing on the surface? Have read a popular fiction book and thought it seemed awfully familiar but you convinced yourself you were reading too much into it. Have you watched Pleasantville or The Truman Show and wondered just what the director wanted to convey? If you have and you want to become better at reading between the lines, I have recently finished a book which you should enjoy.

The book is entitled How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines by Thomas C. Foster of the University of Michigan at Flint (New York: Harper Collins, 2003). Foster must be a fantastic professor because the book easily guides the reader along different themes which convey a deeper meaning than at first glance and teaching the reader great insights without sounding like a textbook. His easy and humorous style make the book easy to comprehend and keeps it from being intimidating. It was a fun read.

In twenty-six short chapters, he enlightens the reader to this new world of symbolism, metaphor, and authorial intent (kind of). After these chapters, he presents a test case with which the reader can test what he or she has learned from the book. As a good instructor, he asks questions of the students understanding and then asks the students to compare their insights with his. For what is essentially “homework” is was quite fun.

Some of the chapters which really helped me was the chapters which spoke of the literary connotations of rain (10), the Christ figure (14), sex (16 and 17), and then the issue of irony in literature (26). The test case (27) was a nice touch for the book. I also appreciated Foster’s Reading List found in the Appendix.

There was some things I did not care for in the book. For one thing, Foster cites a lot of books (as well he should) to prove his point and as he does, it feels like he is consistently showing me how little I am well-read. This is not his fault as I am sure he must read and enjoys reading these books he mentioned. Most the books I have to read for my classes and enjoy reading for my self are non-fiction and if one attempts to go deeper than what the author is saying, then one is really distorting the book. Nevertheless, when he cites these books, he does a fantastic job with telling the reader who has never heard of these books why he is using them. In fact, there are several, after he explained his point, which I will want to pick up and read for myself.

Additionally, I did not find the chapter on Sonnets all that helpful, but again, that is not Fosters fault. I just do not read much poetry. This is because I do not understand poetry. Which may be because I do not read poetry. Anyway…the Sonnet chapter really did nothing for me.

I appreciate the fact that Foster did make brief mention of movies. I have been able to see things in movies that are deeper than the surface more than I have in literature. In fact, because of this post, I may post on this later. I have not been that observant with literature. This may be because 1) I do not read that much fiction and 2) I just have not been actively looking. After reading How to Read Literature Like a Professor, you can be sure that the next fiction book I read will be slowly reading through the rainstorm, or really looking at that road in the book, or wondering why the character has that particular illness. Who knows, maybe I will see something which will make the story even better.

2T22 Rating