Feeling like I needed to discover more insight and depth to my reading, I mentioned that fact to Goodreads friend Will Byrnes
who suggested this book. (By the way, Will's reviews are very, very thoughful, popular and readable.) So I'm glad he did recommend it because it was such a great and painless way for me to understand the underlying thoughts and references of books I read.
Broken into short chapters, it covers all areas that I could possibly think of although author and Professor Thomas C. Foster stated at the end (the chapter titled Envoi; (definition: the usually explanatory or commendatory concluding remarks to a poem, essay, or book))
that he could have written a book twice as long. Most of the readers I know who are not English majors, may not have known that term; I didn’t.
Foster is a professor of English at the University Michigan at Flint, and teaches classic and contemporary fiction, drama, poetry creative writing and composition. With such credentials he certainly knows this subject and I can attest to that.
Some chapter titles:
• Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before?
• When in Doubt, It’s from Shakespeare
• It’s More Than Just Rain or snow
• It’s All A bout Sex
• …Except Sex
• Is that a Symbol?
Professor Foster appears to be a lighthearted individual and I would have loved to have been in one of his classes. He was able to break down into a layperson’s (or lay-reader) terms, difficult and complex thoughts many times with light, airy humor. In fact in the envoi he says “You’ve really been very good about all this, very sporting. You’ve borne my guff and my wisecracks and my annoying mannerisms much better than I have any right to expect.”
The fact is that they didn’t annoy me one iota; they added to any tedium which I had initially expected.
Prior to beginning the book I glanced at a number of reviews on Goodreads and Amazon and noticed more than one person say Professor Foster was condescending to the reader. I totally disagree with that opinion. Perhaps the reviewer attended many more English lit classes than I did and if so, perhaps they should have been reading something much more sophisticated, something more at their reading level, not the average reader, which I consider myself. Come to find out, this is required reading in our local high schools. That’s a good thing, reaching young readers.
Wish I would have read this book years ago since my major was communications with poli-sci minor. Communications as a major covers writing for the masses, advertising, and well, you get the picture. And as we know, newspaper writing was and maybe still is, at the 8th grade level. Not many challenges at that level. Not berating my education, or related professions simply explaining why I didn’t take more English lit, composition or poetry classes and had never heard the word envoi that I can recall.
A few, very few observations from the book that I took away: Trust your instincts; your conclusions cannot be wrong because they're based on your past experiences in life and your prior reading experience; at times the character names relate to the theme of the book so look at them carefully and if you read something in the names, you’re probably right; your past experience as a reader is related to your observation of what the author is saying (know I said that twice but it bears repeating); irony trumps all; ‘always’ and ‘never’ aren’t good words to use in literary studies; trust your gut; the real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge. I particularly love the last observation from Professor Foster, always about self-knowledge. The more you’ve read the more similarities you see and 'oh, I remember that; observations you can make.
I have read some reviewers on other books criticize a book because they had to 'stop at the phone booth to make call' or the book was degrading to women or saying the book was 'dated." The reader must put themselves in the time in which the book was written. In Pride and Prejudice
you wouldn’t expect a yellow cab to show at the door, would you? Think in the context of the period the book was writen, the societal mores of the time. Women didn’t always have the right to vote or to publicly voice their opinion. Books written in the early 1800’s would have women in a far different position within society and the written word. Become one in the era of the book.
Professor Foster asks the question, “Okay, let’s say you’re right and there is a set of conventions, a key to reading literature. How do I get so I can recognize these? Same way you get to Carnegie hall. Practice.”
Simple answer, practice, practice and more practice.
My only regret which, of course, is no fault of the author, is that I have not read many of the books which he refers to as examples. Many of them were obscure and printed in the 1800’s and early 1900’s (or much earlier as Iliad
) so I shouldn’t beat myself up over that. I was able to grasp his explanation though with his writing, enough for me to understand his explanation without reading the books. And I’m not and never will be an English lit major.
Noticed on the back of the book, the author wrote How to Read Novels Like a Professor.
I will definitely read that in the near future.
Just started a Ross MacDonald, 1950’s hard-boiled fiction, The Drowning Pool.
MacDonald is highly touted by many contemporary writers as being a writer who inspired them to pick up a pen and write (or sit in front of a computer like I’m doing now.)
Although I've just read about a quarter of the book, can already see that reading this book has helped me to not "read with my eyes"
which happens to be the name of a chapter. But noticed in the recesses of my mind, I'm understanding more as I read. I feel this book, did make me a better and more thoughtful reader so it accomplished its purpose. Thank you, Professor Foster. Enjoyed your class. Recommend it all my friends.