Friday Book Review: How to Read Literature Like a Professor

I’ve had How To Read Literature Like A Professor on my Kindle wish list for a long time:

So it was a nice surprise to find I could borrow it for free from my library’s e-book system. (Does your library have one? Check it out!)

I have to confess that I have not finished this book yet. I’m enjoying it, but I also started re-reading Anne of Green Gables recently, and that, of course, led to Anne of Avonlea, and so on…. Avonlea is a nice place to “be” this time of year, especially with Anne’s beautiful descriptions of springtime trees and flowers. So I haven’t made as much progress on How to Read Literature Like a Professor as I’d like, but the pages I did read inspired a big, shiny new reading/writing goal for 2014 (more on that later).

I recommend this book for anyone who ever considered majoring in literature, and/or anyone serious about reading or writing. Using a light, conversational tone, Thomas Foster draws parallels between literature of the past and the present. He demonstrates that all stories and plot lines are actually recycled from the Bible, or Shakespeare, or the Greeks, or fairy tales, and that knowing these “basics” of literature helps you understand all other books on a deeper level.

The chapter on Shakespeare particularly resonated with me. I’d heard the joke that whatever you want to write, Shakespeare wrote it first, but I didn’t fully understand how true it was until I read all of Foster’s examples. I had to laugh when it dawned on me that a certain plot twist in my novel, which I had been very proud of, had already been written by Shakespeare in both Romeo and Juliet AND Much Ado About Nothing (incidentally, my favorite play)! So much for originality. (To read my long-ago post on Shakespeare, click here.)

It got me thinking, though. If knowing the basics of literature makes better, more informed readers, wouldn’t it also make better, more informed writers? I’ve always prided myself on being a writer who reads a wide variety of genres, believing that all of my reading informs and supports my work. (You’d be surprised at how many writers don’t spend much time reading.) But I’ve never read anything- any fiction, at least- specifically through the lens of becoming a better reader and writer.

Until now….

To be continued in tomorrow’s post, Wanted: Reading Partners!

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  1. Wanted: Reading Partners for 2014! | Words From The Sowul - […] yesterday’s post, I wrote that How to Read Literature Like a Professor, specifically the section on how Shakespeare […]

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