Book Review: How to Read Literature Like a Professor

How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines
By: Thomas C. Foster
Published By: Harper Perennial  
Publication Date: February 3, 2003
Page Count: 314
Buy it at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Source: personal copy
Audience: Nonfiction

Ever noticed how rain or water seems to pop up in almost every novel? Or why so many major plot points seem to revolve around meals or food? Have you considered the challenges an author presents himself or herself with when they create a character that is blind? Or deaf? Or disabled? Have you ever considered whether vampires actually HAVE to be vampires to suck the life from others? Well you're in luck! Because How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster, a humorous, insightful, and thoroughly enjoyable guide to all things literary, answers those questions, and so many more.
It’s not often I read a nonfiction book that makes me both think and laugh out loud, but How to Read Literature Like a Professor does that and continues to do that even after several re-reads. Just looking through the table of contents provides a good laugh: “Nice To Eat With You: Acts of Communion” “Nice To Eat You: Acts of Vampires” “When in Doubt, It’s From Shakespeare…” “…Or the Bible” and “He’s Blind for a Reason, You Know” are some of my favorites. And then there are chapters themselves, where Foster is able to strike a good balance between informational writing and literary humor. Because, after all, serious literature is hilarious, right? ;)

Each time I read (or re-read) a chapter, I find something new to enjoy in this book. It really is like having a college literature professor at your fingertips, and a FUNNY literature professor at that. Foster is able to explain even the most high-brow literary ideas and concepts in a way that is accessible to everyone – which might be why this is quickly becoming required reading in most high school AP English classrooms. But for all it’s awesomeness, at times the book does get a bit mired in the lengthy, and at times somewhat obscure, examples Foster uses to illustrate his points - as an English teacher, I’ve heard of most of the texts he uses, but not all of them. But I’ll give you the advice I give my students, don’t get hung up on the examples he uses and take the overall message and apply it to something you’ve read.

Finally, one of the best things about this book is that you can read a chapter at a time and not get behind, forget where you were, or feel guilty for not finishing it in a specified time frame. I find myself reading a chapter here and there, when the mood strikes me, and the book is formatted and perfectly suited to that style of reading. I like a book I can take my time with. And this is that book. Pick up a copy - I guarantee even the most literary of you will find something you can look at in a new way.

Final Word: A fantastic - and funny - explanation of all things literary. Read it and remind yourself why you loved English so much in high school (or finally understand what that crazy English teacher you had in 11th grade was trying to explain).

Goodreads Summary  

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.


  1. I had to read this for my English class and I liked it WAY more than any of the other people in it xD Great review!
    Happy reading

  2. I read this in high school and loved it! I remember reading the section with the fried chicken dinner and laughing so hard. It's definitely a great non-fiction book

  3. I read this in college when I had three lit classes in one semester and was completely lost, LOL, it really helped me get through them. Great review!


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