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Product details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks (1 July 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061340405
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061340406
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.9 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 848,946 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Title: How to Read Novels Like a Professor( A Jaunty Exploration of the World's Favorite Literary Form) <>Binding: Paperback <>Author: ThomasC.Foster <>Publisher: HarperPaperbacks

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By clahain on 1 July 2014
Format: Paperback
There are piles and piles of books about being a writer. It's refreshing to find one about being a reader. Thomas C. Foster, a literature professor, employs a fun, breezy style to teach people how to get the most out of their reading. Chapter by chapter he takes readers through the major aspects that comprise "the novel"--quite a trick considering what a slippery creature it has shown itself since its debut back in the 1700s.

Here's a quick sample of some chapter headings. They give a good sense of the Foster's friendly, approachable style.

--Pick Up Lines and Open(ing) Seductions or Why Novels Have First Pages.
--Never Trust a Narrator with a Speaking Part.
--When Very Bad People Happen to Good Novels
--Everywhere is Just One Place
--Who Broke My Novel?
--Untidy Endings

Within each chapter, Forster uses pointed examples from both classic and contemporary fiction. I'm glad I have a habit of reading with a pen in hand, because I ended up with quite a reading list by the time I finished this book. The basic "lesson" of each chapter is summed up by a general (and pretty tongue-in-cheek) rule. Below is a sample of Foster's useful little nuggets.

--The Law of Getting Started: The opening is the first lesson in how to read a book.
--The Law of Narrative Unreliability: Stop believing the narrator when you see the word "I."
--The Law of People and Things: Characters are revealed not only by their actions and their words, but also by the items that surround them.
--The Law of Crowded Desks: When a novelist sits down to begin a novel, there are a thousand other writers in the room. Minimum.

If you are a writer, this book is doubly useful.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Didier TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 1 Sep 2008
Format: Paperback
I recently bought this book on a whim, probably because I felt that - because I read quite a lot of novels and it's been more than 20 years since I studied literature at university - it would be a good thing to brush up on my knowledge of literary theory and techniques (as used in novels). And this is - no mistake - precisely what this book gives: an introduction to things such as point of view, theme, symbols, characters, style, idiom, etc. etc. And all that in comprehensible language to boot! After having read this book you should - depending of course on the level of your prior knowledge - indeed be able to read novels with more insight and arguably more pleasure.

So why only three stars? Well, for three admittedly very subjective reasons (but then again, it's me writing the review so how can I NOT be subjective?):

1. The examples: Foster gives a lot of examples, which is a good thing of course, but they all come from only a handful of books. I lost count of the number of times he illustrates one or other point using passages from 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' (which is a very fine novel indeed, I'll not argue with that) or a novel by Faulkner. Surely, there's other writers and novels out there? Also, it creates the impression - a faulty one I'm sure - that Foster has read a dozen books very very very thoroughly, and then stopped reading altogether.

2. The U.S. slang and idiom: this may or may not get on your nerves (it absolutely got on mine) but I think it's only fair that you should know that the book teems with words and expressions such as 'canny writing', 'yup', 'geezers', 'he's toast', and so on and so forth

3. The humour: now there's a subjective argument if ever there was one, I totally agree.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 7 Oct 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
"When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement." -- Acts 15:31 (NKJV)

I read a lot of novels, being especially drawn to those with unusual structures, exquisite character developments, and continually surprising plots. Among the people I know best, novels are rarely read. This means that I don't have anyone to talk to about basic decisions that novelists make. As a result, I felt like someone who bumped into a friendly professor of English at a cocktail party who wanted to share his views with me in a down-to-earth way. The trip was interesting, but not deeply insightful. If you know a lot about novels or write them, this book may well feel light weight to you.

I was drawn to the book based on having liked the more thoughtful book, How to Read Literature like a Professor. I didn't find the two works to be of equal value to me. One difference is that "Novelist" doesn't actually discuss very many novels. As a result, I didn't get many ideas for unread novels to enjoy.

I did pick up one point as a reader that I very much appreciate: Pay attention to the flower imagery in novels. That's a point that had totally passed me by in the past. I immediately grasped new ideas from the next novel I read. As a person who loves flowers, I had tended to relate to those sections in terms of appearance and scent . . . rather than anything more abstract.
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Amazon.com: 42 reviews
73 of 75 people found the following review helpful
It's a balancing beam... 24 May 2009
By Morgan Tribala - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I am still on the fence about this book. Having read his prior guide, "How to Read Literature...", I was looking very forward to this work as well. Having finished, I am not exactly sure where I stand. To be honest, I was looking forward to something a bit more similar to his first book. This guide has a roughly similar idea, but it really did not do anything for me as far as learning how to read a novel. It was more of a study in novel history, styles, and techniques. It did offer some wonderful insight in why authors do what they do, the choices they make, and experiments they take. The problem is that Foster did not offer much in how to interpret this. It was like a study in the various ways writers craft their technique and how it differs between them (and time). Which leads me to the next thing...

This book, perhaps, should have been titled, "How to Craft Novels Like a Writer", or some other similar idea. There is a lot in here for an aspiring writer, examples of different techniques, character studies, writing styles, plot, theme, and so forth. I got much more out of this book on a writing level than on a reading level. He even references his creative writing classes several times as examples. All of the examples used to try and illustrate how to `read' a passage was much better used as a writing guideline / example. So, in other words, the book makes a great guide for aspiring writers and for those who want some history and aspects of the novel as a form of lit. If you are looking for something as straightforward as his first book, this does not come close. I know some people had an issue with his `cookie-cutter' approach in his first work, but that is exactly why it is now being used in the classroom by many teachers, including myself. It offered some very straight forward approaches in how to look at, scrutinize, and analyze literature. It is also not as exciting or as humorous as his first work either; this book comes off a bit more dry at parts. I found myself skimming and skipping through a few areas. Don't get me wrong, this is a good book and it offered some really great information, but when compared to "How to Read Lit..." it is average at best. Three stars on a reading level, four, if not five, on a study in writing & technique.
44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
a clear voice 5 Aug 2008
By LMPMG - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
As a high school English teacher with two small children, I rarely get a chance to read a book for pleasure--let alone finish one. Amazingly, I read both of Foster's guides this summer. Each was a palatable presentation of issues surrounding literature in general and the novel in particular. He has a clear "voice" allowing me to imagine being back at a university lecture again--one of my favorite places to be! While other texts may seem more "scholaraly" (i.e. "dry"), Foster has a really accessible style for high school students, undergrads, and the interested public at large.
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Typical Sequel 31 Oct 2009
By Tumblina - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
As a high school English teacher, I thoroughly enjoyed Foster's How to Read Literature Like a Professor. Our school's AP program uses the book and I've shared select chapters with my underclassmen. I picked up How to Read Novels Like a Professor with high hopes that I would be able to use it in my classroom. Like many sequels, this book does not live up to the promise of its predecessor.

My first concern as a classroom teacher is that my students have not yet encountered a majority of the texts Foster references. The reader who needs a book titled How to Read Novels like a Professor is unlikely to be fluent in Joyce. Foster relies on examples to clarify his points, but the use of oblique references to texts his potential readers are unfamiliar with undermines the clarity of his text. Joyce and Faulkner may act as common ground for those of us with degrees in literature, for those still in training Salinger and Twain would be more effective.

I appreciate Foster's wit and voice, but that is because I know the material he is discussing well enough to differentiate between zingers and revelations. The voice that makes his work approachable to me, is the same voice that would utterly confuse my students. In my experience, high school readers take flip comments literally when they are not fluent in the subject matter. While I may chuckle at Foster's humor or find his comments unnecessarily distracting, my students would be lost.

The chapters in this book lack the tight focus of How to Read Literature; Foster wanders aimlessly at times as though the purpose of the chapter is to fill space. Had the book been shorter and the focus tighter, this would have been a better book.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Didn't learn much about how to read a novel 4 Jun 2010
By R. Lewis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I loved Professor Foster's How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines, but this second installment feels more like a sequel than a standalone guide. The chapters here read like "leftovers" for what he didn't cover in the previous work. For instance, an entire chapter is dedicated to the literary importance of chapter breaks in reading novels--not exactly groundbreaking stuff.

Further, the information in the book could be presented in about 30 pages. The information is presented in the first paragraph of each chapter, propped up with about 9 pages of fluff and discussion of specific novels, then summarized in the concluding paragraph. Highlighting the key points and skipping the fluff, I made it through this book in about two hours.

Do yourself a favor and pick up How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines if you really want to learn a thing or two about reading literature.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
What Does My English Teacher Really Want To Hear? 30 April 2012
By L. King - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
As a parent I've had to deal severally with my children, sometimes in tears, as they've struggled with the question as to what their teacher wants in their analysis of a novel. Having determined that "magic realism" was a term that entered the high school system after I graduated, probably by a year or two, and having been taught that all stories have a beginning, middle and a end, I turned here to Prof. Foster to get a sense of what is au current.

Turns out I was right and I was wrong. According to the author there is only One Story, that of the human condition. There are just a very large numbers of ways to tell it. And the style of telling it will change according to the mood of the times and the cultural milieu. Context is important, not only that of the society in which it is written, but also, and Foster believes very strongly in this, in terms of the context that the reader brings. Readers are not passive receptacles rather they are and should be active participants in the creation of story and character.

One wonders what Foster might say about fan fiction. Not only are the fans participants - they cannot leave the author's universe behind!

The first chapter, "Pickup Lines and Open(ing) Seductions", Foster trumpets the value of the first 18 pages of the novel, even the first page, paragraph or sentence, simply because these are what the browser at the bookstore looks at first. Style, tone, mood, diction, POV, narrative presence, narrative attitude, time frame, time management, place/setting, motif, theme, sense of irony (or not), rhythm, pace, expectation, character, instructions on how to read the book - these are the hooks that sell the book, and by covering these points no doubt more than half an essay can be made, in case one is wondering where to start. Foster practices what he preaches - as self reference, his non-fictional opening is what drew me in.

The book makes two major points. The first is that without us the reader both character and place are literally paper thin. Most novels devote few words to the physical description of a person, rather they daub impressions based on a few keys - a turn of phrase, a peripheral object such as a walking stick, a sense of mood, a set of green gables, but most of the details are interpolated by us. Pick those up and you score at least a B for analysis. The second is that the fondly regarded traditional structure that I alluded to in my first paragraph was a fashion trend of the 19th century when novels were often serialized and the reader needed, nay demanded guideposts. Interesting idea, literature as fashion.

Overall an enjoyable read, conversational in tone, with insights ranging from Hanna Barbera cartoons are simply successful revisitations of the quintessential buddy novel Don Quixote to speculations on the stylistic origins of scream of consciousness. The book we used in high school was a different Fo(r)ster and I appreciate the update. As is the case with this kind of book one also gets a number of seminal recommendations of good and not so good reads. And, as a parent, I'm glad to report that Professor Foster's ideas have proven to be helpful. Recommended!
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