By Thomas C. Foster
Harper, $16.99, 176 pages
Thomas C. Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor: For Kids is a teen version of his two New York Times bestselling adult books How to Read Literature Like a Professor and How to Read Novels Like a Professor. While Foster’s formulaic approach runs the risk of simplifying complexities to mere fill-in-the-blanks, the benefit of what he is trying to accomplish outweighs that risk. He demystifies the mystical in literature, allowing teens to see that they, too, can unpack the purpose behind setting, symbol, myth and stanza. With telling chapter titles like “When in Doubt, It’s from Shakespeare” and “He’s Blind for a Reason, You Know,” Foster keeps his tone light, his sentences short, and his paragraphs even shorter.
While Foster offers students the tools to recognize consistent threads in canonical literature, he does – thank goodness – allow room for imagination. As he argues in his chapter titled “Is That a Symbol?,” Foster suggests that while the river in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn can be seen as a symbol of freedom, oppression, danger and safety, any mindful interpretation made by the reader is ultimately correct. “The only thing we can be sure about this river is that it means something,” Foster writes. “But it may mean something different for every reader. We tend to give writers all the credit, but reading is also an event of the imagination. The creativity of the reader meets that of the writer, and in that meeting we puzzle out what she means, or what we understand she means.”
Reviewed by Jennie A. Harrop