Thursday, June 18, 2015

I Read Literature Like a Professor. Who Knew?

Foster, T. (2003). How to Read literature like a professor: a lively and entertaining guide to reading between the lines. New York: Harper.

This book is recommended reading for AP Lit teachers everywhere. It is also recommended for their students. Having taught the courses, I would find a few chapters useful. The intro is good for its discussion of memory, symbol and pattern. His chapters on Shakespearean and Biblical allusion are a good intro for students who may not have had much exposure to either, but are expected to understand obscure references to both in encounters with other literature. There is also a great apologetic for students who always question if readers are reading too much into a text. I would use that, for sure. His chapters on myth, poetry, seasons and setting are too cursory. I've seen better material. Where the book fell short: he uses examples that most AP students or college Freshmen have still not read and therefore will not understand or find his discussions engaging. His conclusions also draw 98% from the Western canon, yet he claims there is only one story. I believe he should qualify that statement a bit more. One last thing, I fear that some students and/or teachers may use this book exclusively for developing a critical literary lens. That would be disastrous, as many of the archetypes, symbols and motifs he shares are often used to limit an interpretation of a text, leading to a false sense that there is a "correct" way of knowing what an author was trying to say.

There are helpful reading lists in the back of the book, again, mostly drawing from the Western canon. If you teach BELOVED, Joyce, Eliot, Dickens or Frost, this book will be helpful. He also draws significantly from the works of Frye, Freud, Jung and Bahktin. 

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