Category archives: Recommended

How to Read Literature Like a Professor

by Feb. 24, 2010 in Books, Nonfiction, Recommended

I have been enjoying my time over the past year of writing down what I think about books as I finish them.  It has added a depth to my understanding of books that wasn't there in the past.  Yes, I always enjoyed reading, but I never spent much time meditating on what I read, or digesting it.  Instead, I would read a book, finish it, and immediately move on to the next work.  Now that I don't let myself do that, I'm enjoying reading more than ever.

I've come to realize, though, that I don't have that many things to say about books.  Most of my discussions consist of enjoying a particular plot element, character, structure, tone, or style of the book.  Even when I identify these elements, however, I have a hard time expressing exactly what I like so much about them.  Don't get me wrong - it's good to enjoy these aspects of books.  At the same time, though, I know there is more going on that I'm missing.  But where do I start?  Do I just make things up?

All of these questions lead me to How to Read Literature Like a Professor, and the book has absolutely met my high hopes for it.  Each chapter provides different elements to seek out when reading a book in order to get a deeper understanding of the text.  For example, it encourages you to ask questions such as "why is this character sick?  and why this particular illness?"  Or, "why is it raining/snowing/sunny/cloudy?  What is the author trying to tell me with the weather or the seasons?"  Fortunately Foster doesn't just tell us to ask the questions, but gives us numerous possible answers through examples of a wide range of literature.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, but more than that, I hope that it improves my ability to read literature.  I want to know what is going on behind the text - I want my reading experiences to have depth and to (as Foster puts it) resonate more deeply.  Unfortunately, I don't think I'm going to be very good at it.  I'm sure practice will help, but I'm afraid my mind simply doesn't work this way.  At the end of the day I may always be more of a surface level reader.  That isn't such a terrible thing, as long as I continue to enjoy reading, but I love to hear about the symbolism and metaphors present in a book, so not being able to see those connections myself will be frustrating.

Still, I'm going to try and, over time, I hope to have more posts that ask these type of questions and try to answer them, and hopefully my insights won't be too elementary for anyone with a true literary background.  Oh, and remember when I said that I wish every subject matter got the same treatment that data graphics received in Visual Display of Quantitative Information?  Well, this has been my Visual Display for literature.

"We – as readers or writers, tellers or listeners – understand each other, we share knowledge of the structures of our myths, we comprehend the logic of symbols, largely because we have access to the same swirl of story. We have only to reach out into the air and pluck a piece of it" (192).

Feel free to read for more of my thoughts on the book in the review on the right, since there aren't really any spoilers to be had.

First Line: A Prayer for Owen Meany

by Feb. 11, 2010 in Books, First Line, Fiction, Recommended

For this week's First Line let's see what John Irving has to offer in A Prayer for Owen Meany:

"I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany."

It's interesting coming to this first line after Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell last week.  In that case we had a short ...

Read more »

First Line: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

by Feb. 4, 2010 in Books, First Line, Fiction, Recommended

I think that far too often the first line of a book gets wasted on the reader (myself included). How often do we, when first cracking open a brand new book, stop to appreciate everything the author is trying to tell us right at the very beginning? Sure there are times when we are immediately captivated by some good writing, or by a novel that jumps right into the action, but do we really give enough time to what is literally setting the stage for everything to come?

With that in mind, I'd like to start a reoccurring feature ...

Read more »

Atherton Series (Audio)

by Feb. 1, 2010 in Audio Books, Books, Fantasy, Recommended

I absolutely hate not having an audio book to listen to in the car.  For over 2 years now I have exclusively listened to books while driving.  About a month ago, however, I found myself on the way to the grocery store just as I was finishing the last book I had in the car.  Desperate, I decided to stop at the nearest library to pick something up (typically I reserve books beforehand to ensure I get something of high quality).

I normally stop at a library near my office, so this was not one I had ever been to ...

Read more »


by Jan. 29, 2010 in Books, Fiction, Recommended

An introduction to a book can be a double-edged sword.  Sometimes it can be extremely useful and informative - as is the case with Botchan.  Here we have an introduction that reveals some of the subtleties of the translation that would not have been evident from the text itself.  For example the word Botchan, which is the nickname of the main character and narrator, can mean any of the following:  "a younger son; inexperienced or naïve; easygoing in a way that can either be mildly endearing or distressingly irresponsible" (5).

Clearly this is important information that is necessary to approach the ...

Read more »

Half Moon Investigations (Audio)

by Jan. 22, 2010 in Audio Books, Books, Fiction, Recommended

Before we headed to Pennsylvania for Christmas vacation, Vanessa and I picked up the audio book versions of the first Artemis Fowl, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from our local library.  These were meant to be safe, guaranteed good listens for the many hours of driving we were going to have to do up north.  Unfortunately, I left them at home and when we arrived in PA, with a four hour drive looming on the horizon, we were feeling a little nervous.

Vanessa's mom, and her trusty library card, came ...

Read more »

Catching Fire

by Jan. 19, 2010 in Books, Recommended, Science Fiction

My friend Raina (a librarian) recently mentioned in a book review on Goodreads that the first book in a series has to be extremely good if she is going to read any sequels.  I found this interesting because this is absolutely not the case for me.  A book only has to be moderately enjoyable if I'm going to continue on in a series.  If I like even a single character, or if the plot is remotely interesting, I feel compelled to find out what happens next.

Is this a bad thing?  Sometimes, like when it results in reading terrible ...

Read more »

2009 Reading Year in Review

by Jan. 13, 2010 in Books, Fiction, Recommended, Science Fiction

I'm posting this later than I originally hoped, but oh well.  You'll forgive me, won't you internet?

I think it's safe to say that I read more in 2009 than any year before.  It was both fulfilling and motivating to record my thoughts on books after I finished them, and so I don't have any intention of stopping in the future.  To recap the year, though, I'd like to provide you with my top books of the year, and leverage the database to provide you with some fun stats!

This "Best books list" is ...

Read more »

The Hunger Games

by Jan. 11, 2010 in Books, Recommended, Science Fiction

It's frightening to think about a book like The Hunger Games now that we are in year 2010 and officially in the future.  Normally when you read a book about a post-apocalyptic world in which an evil government forces children to fight other children to the death in order to show how much power they have, you can reassure yourself with the following: "Nothing to worry about!  That kind of thing only happens in the future."  Well guess what?  The future is now and, if Suzanne Collins has it right, it's brutal.

Well, maybe this future isn't ...

Read more »

What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy

by Dec. 21, 2009 in Books, Nonfiction, Recommended

When I first received this book as a gift, I looked at the cover and thought "Cool, a book that will show how good and noble video games are!"  However, if I had read even the title a little more closely I would have realized that this isn't an apologist's book on video games.  It isn't meant to show how video games are good for us, and therefore should be played by everyone all the time (though they should).

So what is it?  Just as the title says, it's a book that looks at what video ...

Read more »