After reading and reviewing Thomas Foster’s first book, How to Read Literature Like a Professor, I was eager to read his second book How to Read Novels Like a Professor. Despite truly enjoying the first novel, I was quite disappointed in the second book by Foster. How to Read Novels Like a Professor was “ok” enough that I would recommend it to someone who wants to know a history of the novel or would like to have something to use as a supplement to Foster’s first book. I am even going as far to say that I would recommend it to my own students for supplementary reading since I already have them use How to Read Literature Like a Professor. However, this is not a book that grabs you and has you wanting to understand more about reading or writing novels.
Foster’s mistake in How to Read Novels Like a Professor is that he tends to jump around from novel to novel in just two or three pages. Many novels of different genres and types are covered in a short space in every single chapter. In my opinion this is a strong weakness of this book, especially since I’m sure many readers of this book haven’t read or even come in contact with many of the literary works Foster discusses. In one of Foster’s latter chapters called “Improbabilities” of the book he begins discussing J.K. Rowling’s character Harry Potter by making the point that Harry is something that no one has been–a boy wizard. Within roughly the next two pages, we are presented with a comparison of Buddha Boy, The Watsons Go to Birmingham, Gulliver’s Travels, both of Lewis Carroll’s books about Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, and then back, finally, to Harry Potter again. The way Foster presented the comparison was very unclear and sketchy to say the least.
As with his first book, Foster’s “lists” of various items, from literary terms to look for to what novels actually contain are the strong points of this book. In Foster’s first chapter, he presents us with a list of eighteen things that the first page of every novel should contain, such as style, point of view, and diction. This list is actually quite helpful and, combined with the examples of first lines of novels, does let the reader see how authors develop their books and even their characters. These little lists do help writers make their writing better, but I do not believe that it will help people understand novels much better than they already do. If you are an English major or teacher or even a student who has to take English (as all students do!), you already have an understanding of these things, and, as I mentioned before, this book is a great supplement to you, but I doubt you’ll refer to it every day. If you are simply a lay reader and read mostly for pleasure, I don’t recommend this book to you. Most lay readers are going to have their own opinion of novels they like to read, and I don’t think Foster’s book will change their minds.
All in all, How to Read Novels Like a Professor, is a great supplement if you are a teacher, English major, or student of any type. But if you are simply wanting to try to understand novels a bit better, I’d go with your own instincts instead of trying to sort through Foster’s back and forth comparisons of MANY novels. So, the verdict for How to Read Novels Like a Professor…I am giving it a C.
Stay tuned for my next review!