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How To Read Literature Like A Professor

A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines

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

How to Read Literature Like a Professor (2003) is an accessible and engaging introduction to literary analysis. With illuminating examples drawn from both classic and contemporary literature, these blinks provide readers with the tools they need to detect deeper meaning in any fictional text.

Key idea 1 of 7

Literary analysis uses memory, symbols and patterns to enrich our reading experience.

What’s your favorite book? You’ve probably read it more than once. You may even know exactly how many times you’ve read it, but can you explain what it is about that book that keeps you coming back?

The truth is that not all readers are created equal. Some of us only focus on the basic level of the story. That is, we follow what happens to a character – the choices they make and how those choices affect other characters.

But it’s more than an exciting plotline and likeable characters that make a book our favorite. More experienced readers are able to tune into what happens on the emotional level of a book. They ask things like “Why did this passage make me feel that way?” or “Where have I seen this happen before?”

By using the codes and patterns of literature, we can uncover the elements beneath the surface of the books we love. From archetypal characters to plot devices, narrative styles to literary references, there are dozens of these elements at play. So if you’re determined to become an able and experienced reader, where should you start?

Well, it helps to group these elements into three major categories: memory, symbols and patterns.

Memory refers to the way in which clever readers seek to make connections between the book they're reading now and others they’ve read before. They’ll ask themselves: “How does this character compare to others I’ve encountered?”

A shrewd reader will also keep their eyes peeled for symbols – when an element in a story represents something other than itself. They’ll ask, “What does this event (or object, or place) stand for in the story?” Finally, the literary reader discerns patterns. An apparently trivial detail that crops up again and again in a story may speak volumes about the main character.

In the next blink, we’ll dig a little deeper into the different elements that help us explore memory, symbols and patterns in a novel.

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