Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Reading Between the Lines


I had no idea how wrong I was really reading until I read Thomas Foster’s book.  Okay, not so much as wrong, but unenlightened.  The catchy title hook of “a lively and entertaining guide to reading between the lines” is truly that.

Professor of English at the University of Michigan, Foster showcases his deep and wide literary knowledge through his delightful instructive on how to really read literature.  His style is as if you are sitting in on lecture due to its friendly, conversant tone. And yes–it is quite entertaining. If there were more literature professors like Foster we might have an overrun of English teachers in the population, then again, maybe the population would become more knowledgable about literature after taking his class.  However, if traveling to Michigan  is inconvenient, I suggest picking up this book.

Reading like a professor simply means gaining an understanding of  all those hidden nuances of that suddenly pop out in 3D once you know they are there.  Kind of like finding the Waldos in the picture once you know what he looks like.

Here is a smattering of chapters:

  • Every Trip Is a Quest (Except When It’s Not)
  • Nice To Eat With You: Acts of Communion
  • If It’s Square, It’s a Sonnet
  • When in Doubt, It’s from Shakespeare…
  • ….Or from the Bible
  • It’s Greek to Me

Foster provides the literary basics (themes and motifs; models; and narrative devices)and utilizes a tremendous variety of examples of genres ranging from Homer to Shakespeare to Toni Morrison (Foster has an absolute thing for Beloved). Succinctly stated, Foster literally reduces the intimidation of reading literature.

You can even test your newly acquired knowledge on the included short story “The Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield.

For those of you who prefer novels to literature you can check out his companion book:

This is one of those books I wished had been available when I was struggling with Melville and the like in college.  Future AP students be forewarned: expect Foster’s book on the summer reading list. A much better choice than Moby Dick (which you will be able to read once having read Foster).

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