How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster

how-to-read-literature-like-a-professorNonfiction — print. Harper Collins, 2003. 281 pgs. Purchased.

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 a sneaking suspicion that the deeper meaning of a literary text keeps escaping you.

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.

That said, How to Read Literature Like a Professor served as a nice refresher on critical reading. As an added bonus, Foster’s writing style makes him easy to understand, not patronizing or intimidating. In fact, some of what he writes received a chuckle from me here and there.

“When they’re writing about other things, they really mean sex, and when they write about sex, they really mean something else. If they write about sex and mean strictly sex, we have a word for that. Pornography.” (pg. 144)

This was required reading for senior English class, but this book would have served as a better introduction to literature and been more helpful is would have been required for Language Arts in eighth grade or, at least, Freshman English. It has many tips and tricks for recognizing common symbolism and other literary techniques, the connotations of which can be easily missed. Since “reading between the lines” has always come somewhat naturally to me, and for my “gifted and talented” classmates, How to Read Literature Like a Professor was some what lost on me. And it is my belief that even people seeking help wouldn’t appreciate the italicized text that supposedly voices the reader’s confused and helpless thought

Others’ Thoughts:


  1. I’ve seen this book before and wondered how it was. It sounds interesting, provided you’ve read enough of the books discussed to understand all the examples! A good reading project, or as Rebecca pointed out, a nice reading list.


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