“How to Read Novels Like a Professor”

February 6, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Posted in Books About Books, Nonfiction, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Thomas C. Foster has done it again.  Our favorite literature professor has made an accessible, funny introduction to his pet subject.  How to Read Novels Like a Professor is the follow-up to How to Read Literature Like a Professor.  (One senses a trend).

How to Read Novels succeeds in all the ways its predecessor did.  It surpasses it in that Novels seems to have fewer spoilers than Literature.  Foster mentions the spoiler issue, toward the end of the book, so we can surmise that someone brought it to his attention.  It would be difficult, if not impossible, to write a spoiler-free book about analyzing literature, unless you wrote your own stories and analyzed them.  Who would want to read that?  Anyway, if you want to enjoy Foster’s books you’ll have to accept that most likely at least one spoiler will penetrate your defenses.

The first question answered is, what is the difference between novels and literature?  In more prosaic terms, what’s the point of writing a second book virtually identical in concept to the first?  Foster points out that not all novels are literature and not all literature takes the form of a novel.  (This is why we’re hoping he’s working on How to Read Poetry Like a Professor).  We are glad for the distinction.  Indeed, the themes of the two books are quite different.  We feel we’re taking the 102 class the semester after 101.

One of the things I like about Foster is that I have learned just a tremendous amount about books from him.  Another thing is that, while he’s probably read every work of repute published in the English tongue, he’s not a snob at all.  He discusses detective novels and Harry Potter along with Joyce, Faulker, and others of their ilk.  (Harold Bloom, on the other hand, dismisses Toni Morrison as “grocery store fiction” (in the new How to Live, by Henry Alford) – making one wonder just what he does consider Real Literature).

Reading Foster is the perfect solution for those of us who never managed to take a lit class in college.  He exposes us to high-falutin’ literary fiction in a way that makes us not only feel that we might understand it, but maybe even want to try it.  He teaches us about books without any weighty expectations about anything we Ought to read.



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  1. That is exactly what I love about his books — his lack of snobbery. I want to like Harold Bloom, and I do respect him, but he’s just a little too full of himself. OK. A LOT too full of himself. 🙂


  2. I’m am with Lezlie on this one – I respect Harold Bloom, but I kind of hate him. He seems to think that personal preference and taste plays no role in evaluating literature and specifically one’s enjoyment of it. I hope he qualifies why he would categorize Morrison as grocery store fiction, rather than just assuming his word is all that is needed. Blech. He seems like such a stodgy blowhard.

  3. I have read this book and found it a revelation and fun and yet and yet….this Gee my students love me cos I am such a cool dude kind of prose wears a bit thin after a while
    but then I am just a stuck up Britisher…

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