Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Book Review: "How To Read Literature Like A Professor" by Thomas C. Foster

Being an English major, one things that's extremely crucial is that I am able to not only read literature, but interpret the meanings behind the thoughts and dissect each and every thought that is presented to me. Paying attention to the words was something I was taught to keep a close eye on during American Literature I and II, for that's where ideas tend to begin. From there, you just keep expanding. Thomas C. Foster, an English professor at the University of Michigan at Flint, discusses everything we should keep an eye on in How To Read Literature Like An English Professor and the specific details that we should pay attention to that will allow us to understand the story better.

To Foster, everything means something, and that's how we should see every piece of writing we come across. Each chapter is named for the idea he's expressing at that point in time. For instance, in the chapter in which he's mentioning how every trip is a quest of some form, many of which are to discover a level of wisdom or maturity, naming this chapter: "Every Trip Is A Quest (Except When It's Not). One of the most fascinating things he points out is how the seasons play out in literature. He mentions that spring is a time of birth, summer a time of living, fall a time of aging, and winter a time of death. This method seems quite simple, as it could be seen throughout plenty of ways (many of which Foster mentions). On the topic of spring and birth, the topic of sex is just as exciting, and Foster points out that authors have found creative ways of describing sexual interaction, whether it be through playful interaction or sharing a dinner. In addition, Foster talks about the meaning of water, the meaning of being blind, the meaning behind specific diseases, and this list keeps going on and on. The most important rule he mentions has to do with irony and no matter what subject he has described, irony trumps everything!

The last activity in this book has to do with reading "The Garden Party," a short story by Katherine Mansfield. The object is to read and answer two simple questions having to do with interpreting the story. It's of your best interest to read the story, look at the questions, read the story again, and then answer the questions through some simple notes. I will not disclose what I came up with, because it will only defeat the purpose of picking this book up in the first place. I will just say that while I didn't hit the main idea right on the money, I did come up with the several other ideas and messages that were being expressed. I highly encourage you to engage in this activity!

Foster engages provides plenty of examples, whether they be literary or through pop culture. He does an excellent job making this information relevant, but perhaps may have taken a few steps beyond what he needed to. Nevertheless, he did a very good job delivering his message, which included highlighting his most important piece of advice in bold. The book he references to the most often is Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, which he uses to discuss topics such as two of the characters swimming in the river and this takes the role of being a baptism. It is obviously included with a list of several other recommendations, whether they be short stories or novels.

I would say that How To Read Literature Like A Professor provided me with a sense of direction when it came to understanding the message each author was trying to deliver through the text. If you're looking to expand on your consumption of literature that you wish to read, this is a fine tool to use in order to begin. The best line has to do with what we consume on page 281 of the book, in which Foster reminds us to not, "wait for writers to be dead to be read; the living ones can use the money," which is referring to how the bestsellers primarily write thrillers, fantasies, and young adult fiction, as oppose to the literature that comes off as being English class material. He encourages us to find good writing and to read what we deem as good writing, plus what we like. This book takes on the feel of a fun English class, in which a good discussion without any boundaries goes about. So have fun while you read!

Verdict: 8/10

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