How To Read Novels Like A Professor – Thomas C. Foster – Be Inspired As A Reader Or A Writer

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.

14 thoughts on “How To Read Novels Like A Professor – Thomas C. Foster – Be Inspired As A Reader Or A Writer”

  1. Salman Rushdie’s Midnight Children sat on my pile for ages, I actually need to conquer my fear before I read it. Have you read that book yet? I need some company.

    For the time being slim books that I could get through it quickly is what I’m after…

    1. JoV – You know what? That makes the two of us. I also have Midnight Children for ages. And I still want to read Satanic Verses before reading that! Maybe we shall read Midnight Children together … hahaha.

      1. Ok you are freaking me out now. I too had Satanic Verses on my pile, at home right now! LOL…

        I think we should read them together. Tell me when you think you can picked them up? Ideally I’m thinking of end of November? is that too late? and then you can start a book discussion. or a book club even. Many book bloggers do that. 😉

        1. JoV – You too?! What a coincidence! End November sounds good to me. I have just borrowed Our Tragic Universe from the library (after reading the comments at your website). That should keep me happy for quite some time as I can be a slow reader at times 🙂

          A book club?! I think yours can. My website is too generalized, I think.

          1. Since you are a man with ideas, I’m sure Scarlett Thomas novels will appeal to you.

            Ok End November then. I’ll feature your blog in my posting, and say we are reading this together and ask if anyone out there who wants to join us. I’ll have to clear up the library loot and settle in for Rushdie soon.

            1. JoV – The first thing I did after reading your entry was to head down to my local library and borrow the book! I got it. I have started reading.

              OK. Which one are you referring to? Midnight Children or Satanic Verses? I have to get mentally prepared for this … ha ha ha. You have to give me some advance warning on when you would like to release the entry. I will try my best to work backward and match your schedule.

              Wait. Are you saying end Nov is the target day? In that case, I will have to start reading pretty soon … hahaha.

              Do you have Homer’s Odyssey and Lliad? They are also on my to-read list …

  2. Ok here’s what I plan to do. Sometimes this week or by next week I’ll let you have a look at my draft before I publish the entry. The content would be to introduce my reading partner, you, and open an invite to anyone who wish to join us. I’ll also include a reading guide (from accredited source of course).

    I’ll published it mid-Sept at the same time I’ll find opportunities to circulate to my circle of bloggers. By beginning of November, I’ll send a reminder again, and say by mid November, will be the day everyone can start reading and sharing. as you say you are a slow reader, lets give it one month. every week I’ll post an update to share what we think and I’ll link back to your post, if you want to share your thoughts, but it’s ok if you don’t. Say a note of thank you at the end. and then we’ll do another read-along whenever you are ready.

    I have never host such read-along before and I’m excited because that will force me to read books that scared me to death! For all you know, it might just ended up us who is “reading along”!! ha ha

    OMG, we are on a same page. I do want to read Homer’s Odyssey and Lliad!!! (and I’m in discussion with a publisher to offer some free gifts because I am in the middle of setting up the website to host a mythology reading challenge!)

    Other books that daunted me are:
    A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
    Crime and punishment – Dostoyevsky.
    The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett
    Bleak House – Dickens
    War and Peace – Tolstoy? (hmm not so sure about this)
    Cairo Trilogy – 3 books length by Egyptian Nobel Prize Laureate

    I like to do midnight children and Satanic verses back to back, but because Satanic verses has a stigma and is a decade-old ban books, it might be political incorrect to host a read along about it… I don’t know. Two minds about this book.

    So does this sounds good?!

    1. JoV – You are really passionate about writing! I am happy to do this side by side with you. OK. The main discussion will be on your site and I will the traffic to yours. I will also do my best to spread the words on my Facebook page. You will have to do all the hard work of linking to the reading along posts from others (hehehe).

      Homer is really hard, I think … ha ha ha. But I still wish to read them one day.

      You are right about Satanic Verses. It does have a stigma. It has its share of controversy and I will expect discussion to be intense, unless we are ready to moderate it or limit the scope of our discussion. For a larger part of me, it is curiosity more than anything else that prompts me to read the book.

      OK. Sounds good. I am on. I am going to try my best to pull my personal friends to read along too.

  3. I’m writing that reply at the same time watching The Girl with the dragon Tattoo on DVD! so much mistake!!

    Illiad you mean? begins with a capital “I”? If my reading challenge actually launch, you can join me and my blogger buddy next year?

    and Cairo Trilogy is written by Naguib Mahfouz.

    1. JoV – Ha ha ha … is the movie good? Quite a few friends of mine love it.

      Sure, I am the sporty type. If you have a challenge running, I will do my best to support.

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