The 10-Book Challenge: Book #7

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

I picked up this book while I was still living in Seoul. I barely started reading it in the spring before I moved back to the U.S. — and then life got in the way for a while. I’ve significantly ramped up my consumption of literature during the last couple of years, so I thought this book might teach me a few things about analyzing and interpreting it. It has delivered marvelously.

Foster uses humor while writing from the informed perspective of a longtime lit professor (University of Michigan at Flint). He examines all kinds of literary symbols and patterns — quests, communion, the weather, geography, physical ailments, etc. — and explains what they might mean once the reader starts digging beneath the surface of the story.

This really is a cool book, and I’d recommend it to anyone, particularly those of us non-lit teachers who would like to be able to decode the deeper meanings of what we’re reading. What’s even greater about Foster’s attitude is that he readily admits — and even encourages the point of view — that there’s no one way to interpret anything. We all see things based on our own knowledge, previous experiences, and attitudes.

Here’s my favorite quote from the book: “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.” (p. 284)

* BONUS READING *

The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe

Foster used this story a few times throughout his book to make a few of his points. I hadn’t read it in probably two decades, and it’s short enough to sneak in a quick read, so I revisited it. As is typical for Poe, the story is dark and creepy. If you haven’t read it, maybe it’ll take 30 minutes. Note: consider the possibilities about the relationship between the brother and sister.

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