“How to Read Literature Like a Professor”

Thomas C. Foster

If you pay attention to my reviews, you may notice a dearth of “literature” as a genre. This was my attempt to begin working on rectifying that; sadly, I don’t think it will have worked. This sort of literary analysis, tearing apart every decision the author made to try to find the symbolism behind it, just isn’t my cup of tea.

Which isn’t to say that this wasn’t a good book! I quite liked the way it served as an overview of the topic, to begin with. Beyond that, there were a couple things that really stood out to me as something of throughlines to the book.

First, that, roughly put, meaning is in the eye of the beholder. We each bring our own personal history, our own preconceptions and biases, to our reading. The things that strike me as meaningful are going to be different than the things that strike my sister as meaningful, but the two of us are likely to have more overlap than I would with someone reading the same thing in their home in Hong Kong.

Secondly, a professorial reiteration of the idea that there’s nothing new. It’s one big melting pot; in the same way that each reader has their own approach to the same book, each other has their own approach to the same ur-story underneath everything.1

So, overall, a useful introduction to/reminder of literary analysis as a concept. I remain… not sold on the whole field, but to each their own! If it’s of interest to you, this is a pretty good place to start.2

  1. This also, I felt, made an excellent addition to the arguments in favor of transformative works as a thing. If all of fiction is just remixes of earlier fiction, then what difference is there, really, between a fanfic and Dante’s Inferno? One is older, is all, and has attained respectability over time.
  2. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.