Recently, I picked up a copy of How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading between the Lines by Thomas Foster. It is one of those books that you’re walking through the bookstore and maybe think “That looks interesting. Probably wouldn’t take long to read.” Here are my impressions.
The author exhibits a wide exposure to various types of literature. So, every point is illustrated with a wide variety of examples ranging from the Iliad to modern works of literature that I’ve never even heard of. This gives the book a great deal of color as the examples that the author has to drawn upon seem somewhat limitless. There is a good bibliography at the end of the book.
The book is strong on aspects of literature like characterization and setting, but thin on plot. The apparent reasoning for this is that plot is somewhat more easily grasp than the subtleties of characterization and setting. While I agree with this to a certain extent the book could have used at least a dash of discussion about plot. It may be the easiest to pick up on, but I initially became more interested in literature myself through a better understanding of plot development.
Probably my favorite part of the book was the discussion of how “there is only one story.” The point being that all stories build upon others and add to the conversation later to be built upon by other stories. Literature begins to come more alive when one begins to the interconnections.
One area where I do think the book falls short is in explaining why one would even want to read literature like a professor. I remember having a discussion once with a friend about music. He played piano by ear, and I asked him if he ever wanted to study music. His response was that studying music would have ruined it for him. Something that was relaxing and beautiful would have become mechanic. I think that is a concern for many who perhaps read for pleasure. “If I looking and thinking about all of that stuff when I’m reading, I think that would ruin it for me.” Indeed familiarity can sometimes breed contempt.
With that said, with a title like How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading between the Lines the author may not have felt the need to address this more explicitly. It would seem that most who would buy a book with this title might have already answered that question for themselves.