how to read lit like a prof coverAuthor: Thomas C. Foster

Number of Pages: 314

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Release Date: January 1, 2003

“What does it mean when a fictional hero takes a journey? Shares a meal? Gets drenched in a sudden rain shower? Often, there is much more going on in a novel or poem than is readily visible on the surface — a symbol, maybe, that remains elusive, or an unexpected twist on a character — and there’s that sneaking suspicion that the deeper meaning of a literary text keeps escaping you.

In this practical and amusing guide to literature, Thomas C. Foster shows how easy and gratifying it is to unlock those hidden truths, and to discover a world where a road leads to a quest; a shared meal may signify a communion; and rain, whether cleansing or destructive, is never just rain. Ranging from major themes to literary models, narrative devices, and form, How to Read Literature Like a Professor is the perfect companion for making your reading experience more enriching, satisfying, and fun.”


I was assigned to read this book for my AP English course, and at first I was very excited. The writing itself gives a great first impression, and although the subject matter can be rather dull I thought that Foster might be able to liven it up a bit. Unfortunately, How to Read Literature Like a Professor did not turn out to be the stellar read I hoped it would be.

The major strength of this book is the writing style and voice. There is so much personality in the writing that it almost feels as though Foster is having a conversation with you. He knows that in the wrong hands the topic of symbolism in literature can be quite monotonous, and he tries his best to remedy this situation with humor and wit. He brings up some excellent ideas and facts that I had never contemplated before. Who knew that heart disease in literature is actually a symbol of something wrong with the character morally? It seems so simple now that I know it (problems with heart + character = character’s flaws) but for some reason I just never realized it before. Little tidbits of information and hidden meanings like this helped make this book interesting.

But alas, excellent writing itself was not enough to rescue this book from total boredom. It started off strong, but after over twenty chapters of symbolism it quickly became sluggish and barely kept my interest. Another issue I had with it is that Foster uses an abundance of examples to help him explain what he means. Under normal circumstances I would consider this a good thing- after all, he’s backing up his claims with plenty of evidence. But in this case it was just way too much. I wasn’t familiar with many of the texts he continually referenced, and therefore a large percentage of the book went right over my head. I ended up skipping over pages and pages of writing because I just couldn’t connect with it at all. It seemed contradictory to me that he was referencing difficult texts in a book teaching people the meanings of basic literary symbols. Using advanced reading to teach beginners? That just doesn’t seem practical or effective to me.

Overall, this was an okay book. It’s a mediocre form of entertainment, but as far as education goes it’s really quite helpful. There’s a lot of great information in here, so long as you have the patience and motivation to sift through it all.

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) 3 out of 5 smileys.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: If they were interested in reading more analytically, read a lot of difficult literature, or were taking an advanced English course, then yes. This isn’t the type of book I would recommend to a friend for fun, though.

Have you ever read this book? What did you think of it? What other books about literary symbols or reading analytically would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!




  1. Glad you liked it enough to give it three out of five stars! I agree that the book can get boring in the middle if you read it straight through, but it does possess several great ideas for those invested in English.


  2. I’ve never read this cover to cover but I’ve picked it up here and there at Barnes and Noble. It seems like a good book to read in conjunction with one of the books mentioned, but as far as entertainment, I think I would get bored like you did.


  3. Oh I just don’t know. I feel a lot of the time symbolism is discussed in literary text or classics, and I want to call up one of the Bronte’s and be all, “Yo, did you actually mean something else when you said…”. I think sometimes, some authors use symbolism and whatnot – sometimes it’s obvious and other times not so much, but I also feel that we can greatly over-analyse a text to death. Especially if we try it with modern texts. I did enjoy English Literature when I studied it, and if I ever chose to read that way I’ve no doubt I’d enjoy it again. But I read to escape and unwind mostly, and analysing texts feels too much like doing more studying, which is exactly what I’m trying to escape when I read!! lol 😀


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