Book Reviews

How To Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster Book Review

I picked this book up (at the library, but it’s also cheap on Amazon) after struggling to get through the middle sections of The Violent Bear It Away.

It was a fast and interesting read – and definitely came through on its title promise.

What I Liked

The author feels approachable and he definitely empathizes with the struggle that I think most everyone first felt around 9th Grade Literature Class – “how did you know X from that random text in that book / poem / short story???

I like how the book gives a framework to practice while reading any book rather than just a bunch of examples. That approach contrasts with (my) typical high school / college experience where the professor helped us analyze & work through a single book…that didn’t translate over to another work of literature.

I liked how the book encouraged me to think of reading as a skill that can be learned, re-learned, and practiced over time. Sure, some people are more adept at reading & imaging fictional work, but usually those people have simply practiced reading more (because they enjoy it).

What I Didn’t Like

There’s nothing about the book that I didn’t like. He even surprised me with a list of literature in increasing difficulty at the end. A++ idea.

Now, what I really don’t like how literature is taught in the USA. This book should be the curriculum for every single class. The standard practice of analyzing a couple “Important” books makes literature seem like a random “Important (but irrelevant)” hobby instead of an opportunity to efficiently & quickly broaden our life experience from our own life to dozens / hundreds / thousands of lives lived.


There are really only a handful of basic human stories. The skill of reading literature is to connect a specific work to an archetype and use that archetype to learn how specific characters respond to the plot.

Everything can be a symbol. As a reader, you are an active participant in noticing & creating symbols in any work you are reading. However, it’s not a free for all, see-whatever-you-want-to-see situation. Instead, use the scientific method to create a hypothesis, make a prediction, define how to prove that prediction false, and see if you can prove it.

If reading literature is a skill, you’ve got to practice. And that means reading literature. It’s a bit of a chicken & egg situation, but most things that are worth starting are like that.

Also – there are seriously millions of books & stories out there. Even if you read a book per week…you’ve got like 2500 books in your life. Find a balance between pushing through a difficult but worthwhile book…and just putting down a book that you don’t like.

By Nate

I'm Nate Shivar - I live in Atlanta and love exploring the city, outdoors, books & Internet. Read about me, my Now page, or my work.

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