How To Read Literature Like A Professor, by Thomas C. Foster


In Thomas Foster’s book, “How to Read Literature like a Professor”, we are introduced to literary basics, symbols, themes and contexts to show how to make your everyday reading experience more rewarding and enjoyable.

His focus on memory, symbol and pattern claims that these features separate the professional reader from the rest of the crowd. Telling us the obvious, that many books can be enjoyed for their basic stories, but there are often deeper literary meanings interwoven in these texts. Foster suggests that seeing these hidden truths is something that is natural to the professor.

·        Memory. If the story seems familiar it may be on purpose. It will add meaning if you consider how it is different.

·        Symbols. A good example of a symbol could be the scar on Harry Potter’s forehead. Why is it on the forehead? Where else in literature was someone marked this way. What does its shape mean? Interpreting the symbols adds to the story.  

·        Patterns. If an author uses the same phrases and words in different events it may signal a connection. When certain characters follow a pattern it tells us that and explanation needs to be looked for?

When the same ideas come up again and again the repetition of the idea is likely a symbol. Foster tells us the repetition is intertextuality explaining that all texts depend on one another.

Foster’s book asks the broader questions of what literature is, how and why we react to it, the creative process, and the purpose of reading itself.

I have referred to the book several times over the years.


“Education is mostly about institutions and getting tickets stamped; learning is what we do for ourselves. When we're lucky, they go together. If I had to choose, I'd take learning.” 

“Always" and "never" are not words that have much meaning in literary study. For one thing, as soon as something seems to always be true, some wise guy will come along and write something to prove that it's not.” 

“We - as readers or writers, tellers or listeners - understand each other, we share knowledge of the structures of our myths, we comprehend the logic of symbols, largely because we have access to the same swirl of story. We have only to reach out into the air and pluck a piece of it.” 

“ a full-contact sport; we crash up against the wave of words with all of our intellectual, imaginative, and emotional resource