Monday, July 11, 2011

How to Read Literature Like a Professor

I enjoyed this book.  I really got in to the chapters at the beginning, buying everything that Foster said.  Obviously, he's the professor, and I can say that I feel like I learned a lot.  But what I really left with wasn't having memorized all the topics of his chapters, but having understood that there's a lot more going on under the surface of "great" stories and novels and poems.  I was happy that at the end of the book, Foster tells you just to read to the best of your ability.  And he says throughout that practice makes better, so anyone can read the best books and think about them, though we will all do this on our own level.

Foster admits that the topics covered in this book are just the beginning.  He discusses rain and water in literature, for example, but not fire.  We all know that fire can be an extremely symbolic and powerful metaphor in a work, but it's not included in this book.  To include everything, Foster states, would make this work a gargantuan literary encyclopedia, and who wants to read all of that.  Instead, he shows the reader many of the patterns that readers can notice in literature and then sets you free.

My only concern about this book is how well a high school student would like it.  I enjoyed many of the chapters (though some better than others), but I also am a thirty-year-old-English-teacher-English-major-lady who was willing and interested to read this book.  I knew most of the stories, poems, and novels about which Foster wrote.  But how many of those works would even your best high school English student know.  Would it make the book harder to read if the reader didn't know the works being referred to?  I'm not sure.  I felt that way when reading.  If I knew the work he was talking about, then the chapter was definitely more interesting to me.  If I didn't know the work, I appreciated Foster's plot summary and explanation, but the chapter didn't mean as much.

Overall, I like the main idea of this book - look for patterns.  Literature works on many, many levels, and you can become a really good reader of literature if you read often, read great works, and think about the works you're reading.  I will be very interested to see what my students thought of the work.  I feel like English majors would love this book, but every student who signs up for AP Literature isn't necessarily going to be an English major, so well see what the kids think soon.

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