“How to Read Literature Like a Professor”

August 14, 2008 at 1:55 am | Posted in Books About Books, Nonfiction | 1 Comment

This is a great book in the tradition of Fadiman’s The Lifetime Reading Plan and Adler’s How to Read a Book. Won’t someone tell me what to read and why I should read it? I realize that there are those who look down on this sort of thing. But hey, not everybody is going to get a degree in English literature. Those who did – you do want people to read great books, don’t you? Even… common people?

 

I read How to Read Literature Like a Professor, by Thomas C. Foster, in preparation to read his new book, How to Read Novels Like a Professor. (You can see where this is going; I bet either Poetry or Plays will be next). I just like to keep on top of these things, and, of course, see if there are any great books missing from my list of things to read. Indeed, there were a few things I wanted to go out and grab right away.

 

Foster writes well, and I imagine his classes are popular. He’s funny and highly engaging. The chapters are all bite-sized, just a few pages each, so you could read this book a little at a time between other things if you like. There’s just one problem: spoilers! Essentially every time Foster mentions a book, he immediately sums up the entire plot and gives away the ending and/or the major events of the plot. No warning, either. Now, I read a lot, and I’ve been working on “the list” since junior high school, but I had only read maybe half the books he mentioned. Almost all the remainder were on my to-read list. So now I have this feeling of disappointment, that I’m finally going to read these books and I’ll already be anticipating the end. Bah, I hate that. It happened to me when Harry Potter 4 had just come out, and this young blonde piped out with: “I can’t believe ____ ___!” (The most shocking event of the entire series to that point). I turned to her and said, “Gee, thanks, I’m still on Book Two,” and she gave me a dirty look. Why couldn’t she just have said “I can’t believe the ending!”?

 

So consider yourself warned. Foster will probably do the exact same thing in Novels. There ought to be a concordance, so one could skip the sections talking about books one hoped to read one day. On the other hand, it’s ideal if you’d like to give the impression of having read through the canon without actually having done it.

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  1. We have recently made an exciting discovery–three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos on the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

    When we discovered them and how intrinsically edifying they are, we negotiated an agreement with Encyclopaedia Britannica to be the exclusive worldwide agent to make them available.

    For those of you who teach, this is great for the classroom.

    I cannot over exaggerate how instructive these programs are–we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

    Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

    http://www.thegreatideas.org/HowToReadABook.htm


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