I got this book at Christmas 2018 from Santa Claus and I was dying to read it. Two months into 2019, I grabbed the book from my TBR pile and just fell in love with it.
I’ve always wanted to further my education in History or Sociology but since I had to teach and write full time, that was not a possibility in my 20s at all. I also wanted to do an M.A. in English or an MFA but yet again, since I had to earn my keep, I had to leave off some of my post-graduate studies mid-way.
This book was educative, humorous and one of the most fascinating books about reading literature I’ve ever read, thank you so much Santa!
This book has made me look at the books I read, especially the poems, plays and prose I teach school children in a new and marvelous way. As a writer, it made me analyze my own works and understand why I had written the stuff I had written.
‘How to Read Literature like a Professor’ is just as the title states, to read and analyze the underside of the story or poem you are reading. Most stories according to Foster are almost similar to the ancient Greek, Norse, Egyptian, et al., stories that we have somehow ingrained into ourselves. Without realizing it, our plots are the same as those stories of the past; we are just working on ancient plots from the past. The book mostly is from a Western perspective so Greek, Roman, Judaist and Christian legends/myths/Bible stories of old are the main examples Foster uses in his book. However, I am from India, and like most Indians, I’m quite well aware of the ancient Hindu legends of the many gods and goddesses along with their many ‘avatars’ and I found so much of these legends as well engrained in the stories that we read even today, and I’m talking of Wester stories who should have had no idea about Eastern Hindu traditions at all!
Wow! If that doesn’t make you sit back and think that something unifying is being taught to us here in our own past and present literature, nothing will.
Foster does a marvelous job in this book to teach us the ways and means to read a text for study and professors’ point of view. He makes it sound easy, and indeed it is easy even for someone like me who has no background of English Literature, because I am mainly a History and Sociology student. From things like the significance of the elements of nature used in a text, the Christian angle to almost every protagonist, community eating, the significance of certain sicknesses, hidden irony, sexual hidden code writing, politics interfering in writing, the geographical significance of a plot, etc., everything is explained in a down-to-earth manner which as James Shapiro rightly says,
“Thomas Foster goes far toward breaking down the wall that has long divided the academic and the common reader.”
I’ve been teaching for the past ten years at my tutorial ever since I was 20 and this book has educated me more about the texts that I teach. When I am reading other novels or short stories these days after reading Foster’s awe-inspiring book, I am really analyzing it as well as remembering the signs he said to look for.
And the great part about Foster’s book is that he, at the end of the book, gives you a test short story by Katherine Mansfield to see if we have managed to grasp the core of how we can read books like a professor. I did well in that test. I’m totally sure you will too after reading this wonderfully erudite but super- interesting book. Also, at the end of the book he gives you a bibliography of the books he has used to teach us to ‘read as a professor’ in the book, but it is not like any regular run-of-the-mill bibliography. Foster (God bless him) has taken the trouble to actually turn the bibliography section into a friendly ‘reading list’ where he actually goes through the trouble to write a bit about each book ( and most importantly) whether it is a poetry book or a myth from Bullfinch or a rare WW2 novel. I really appreciate him for doing this; thank you Professor Foster.
In this book apart from the awesome knowledge it gives us, Foster comes across as a really dedicated professor and teacher of literature. He is all there for his students be they from any social or economic background and I like the way he turns to them for tips or suggestions for this book. Foster is definitely a really nice guy, and a witty one.
There is absolutely no sarcasm in the book. And I want to make a point here about that because most of these modern-day literature professors who are bringing out their essays, theories on literary studies or whatever, are coming across as so aggressive, full of sarcasm, pride and bitterness, always wanting to put the reader way down because they ‘think’ they are more erudite than the reader. That’s not how Foster works, and when you read his book you grow to love his fatherly attitude towards you, his beloved reader. When I read this book, I felt that Foster was leading me by the finger like God leading his people Israel towards the ‘kingdom promised to them’ and I don’t know about God, but Foster has managed to keep his promise.
I’m a big fan of Shakespeare and the Bible. So, when reading this book, I realized that so much what is written today are mostly all plots from Shakespeare’s plays or Bible stories, and Foster provides proofs– I was openly gawking. I even realized that most of the symbology I used in my own stories like ‘Nirmala: The Mud Blossom’ and ‘Amina: The Silent One’ are all accounted for and explained by Foster in this exceptionally intellectual book.
When I finished it, I was a new person altogether. I was a new reader altogether. And if you want to feel the way I feel then do grab a copy of ‘How to Read Literature like a Professor’ by Thomas C. Foster and experience the change in your style of reading.
I highly recommend this book to all the English Literature teachers and professors out there. If you are having problems in understanding your text, then this is the book for you. If you are a student of literature or love to read literature, this book should be a must read on your list. If you are studying literature in high school abroad, this is a book you should add to your reading list. It’s a 303-page book and a very intelligent easy read so you can read it at any time where ever you may be. I read it while I was at my busiest at work and still loved it.
I hope to be reading Foster’s other two books this year itself namely, ‘How to Read Novels like a Professor’ and ‘Twenty-five Books that Shaped America’. They are already on my TBR list and I am totally excited about it.
Do support Thomas C. Foster and buy his book and get enlightened. Happy reading to you all!
Copyright ©Fiza Pathan 2019