Book05: "How to Read Literature Like a Professor" by Thomas C. Foster
For my fifth book, I chose to go with “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” by Thomas C. Foster. It was one of five books that I bought in preparation for my deployment to Afghanistan. It caught my eye in passing, stacked on one of those random desks that Barnes and Noble has strewn throughout the store with section titles like “Summer Reads” or “Best Selling Paperback”. The summary on the back cover grabbed me though, proclaiming a guide to deeper and more insightful reading and analysis of literature and novels. Being a former student of AP English 11 (I did pretty well) and someone who’s always hungry for the “true meaning” behind the words, whether it be a story, a speech, or a song lyric, I was hooked and had to have the secrets. However, by the end of the reading, the book had humbled me and my ability to read into the deeper meaning of writing.
The author, Thomas C. Foster, is a professor of English at Michigan, and one who’s class and lectures I probably would have enjoyed and listened to intently, instead of falling asleep or just deciding to not show up. Foster’s writing reads exactly like lectures in his college classes, however, he wasn’t difficult to read. He wasn’t condescending and his ideas weren’t difficult to decipher; he brought every one of his points down to a level even basic readers could understand. His tone and voice were conversational, but still informative; a mark of a man who truly knows about what he speaks, and who really wants people to understand and be able to see as he sees (or reads, rather). And the book is exactly as its title proclaims: a guide for insightful reading.
Every chapter (26-ish, I believe) focused on one specific symbol, and how writers throughout the years used these symbols to express similar ideas and themes over and over again, granted, in their own way. It was like someone opening your eyes to a new point of view, like you finally saw the sailboat hidden in the Magic Eye. Each chapter I read opened my mind up to this new “vision” for reading. I thought I was finally catching on and that I had finally broken through the wall of face value, but I quickly found out that I wasn’t in the final chapter. The final chapter contains a five to six page excerpt from a short story, and at the end, Foster poses a couple of questions to the reader regarding what the story signifies and how it signifies. Afterwards, Foster cites three different answers to those questions, from three different students who have varying degrees of experience with Foster’s guidance. The writing shows that as each student has spent more time under Foster’s tutelage, the more insightful the student’s analysis became. Sad to say…I was at level one (college freshman).
In no way is this book the keys to the kingdom. This isn’t the answer sheet to a final exam. Rather, it’s a fast and loose guide by which a reader can build a foundation on for the future, thus, the reason I decided to tackle this book before getting deep into my Cannonball Read Deuce reading. As Foster states early on in his book, as with most skills, it will take a lot of practice to develop and cultivate the ability to “read literature like a professor”, but it’s a start. And hopefully the next forty-seven books will offer enough practice for me to regain some of my literary pride.