This book is a heavy read for me, despite the amiable effort by the author to make it as readable as it can be. The tone is friendly, the style is classroom instructional, and there are humours in the book too. But unless you are trained in literature and are well read, you are going to go through the book in snail speed trying to digest the contents. I may consider owning this book because reading once is not enough. For all the effort, what do you get out of this book? Cliché as it sounds, you may get to read novels like a professor. As for me, I am still far from that goal. Probably need to work a lot harder to get there.
“How To Read Novels Like A Professor” is structured in 22 chapters that are creatively named (such as Met-him-pike-hoses or Source Codes and Recycle Bins and my favorite When Very Bad People Happen To Good Novels). Each chapter deals with one aspect of reading novels. Some I am familiar with (or I have a conceptual preexisting idea). Some I have unheard of. Like the 18th episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses that begins and ends with the word “yes”. That one sentence can go on and go forever. What a demonstration of the meaning of drowning in the stream of consciousness.
The book starts with what readers can derive from the first page of a novel. Namely style, tone, mood, diction, point of view, narrative presence and attitude, time frame, time management, place, motif, theme, irony, rhythm, pace, expectations, character, and instructions on how to read a novel. Something familiar to – I presume – literature students (but not I of course). Did you know that as far as narration goes, there are only seven possibilities and each has a different set of effects and functions? The author then moves away from the basic and into subtle but important observations on how a novel is constructed, what to look out for. For example, characters are made out of words that may not fully describe the characters. It is the readers who ‘supply our own storehouse of information about how people or objects look in real world’ (that reminds me of the movie “Inception“). It is impossible to write a novel describing all the details involved in, say, half a billion people achieving their freedom from colonial rule. But a writer can help to form the picture by looking through the eyes of a main character. The readers would supply the rest. Any idea which book I am referring to (see footnote)?
Throughout the book, the author stresses the point that a novel is a work of fiction, the story is not real. But yet, some novels are able to captivate readers’ attention and imagination. Thomas Foster then examines a large repository of novels putting some of them side by side to illustrate his points. I wish I have read even a fraction of what he has quoted. Fortunately, Foster has done an excellent job in narrating some parts of the stories so as to make some of us who are not as well read feel inclusive to the discussion.
I agree with the author that it is the readers who keep a novel alive. And books lead to books, ideas to ideas. Although this book is titled as such, I am convinced that it is equally essential for those who are aspired to be a novelist. At the end of the book, there is a list of books for further reading. This list could be of value to those who are into this topic. Believe it or not, I do own one of the recommended books: Six Memos for the Next Millennium (1988) by Italo Calvino. Now, that is a heavy read and I have yet to finish reading it, despite the numerous attempts.
PS. The book I was referring to is called Midnight’s Children written by Salman Rushdie.