How to Read Novels Like a Professor

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Of all the literary forms, the novel is arguably the most discussed . . . and fretted over. From Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote to the works of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and today's masters, the novel has grown with and adapted to changing societies and technologies, mixing tradition and innovation in every age throughout history.

Thomas C. Foster—the sage and scholar who ingeniously led readers through the fascinating symbolic codes of great literature in his first book, How to Read Literature Like a Professor—now examines the grammar of the popular novel. Exploring how authors' choices about structure—point of view, narrative voice, first page, chapter construction, character emblems, and narrative (dis)continuity—create meaning and a special literary language, How to Read Novels Like a Professor shares the keys to this language with readers who want to get more insight, more understanding, and more pleasure from their reading.

Curriculet Details
79 Questions
79 Annotations
3 Quizzes

Designed for students in 11th and 12th grade, this free digital curriculum contains annotations explaining important literary terms, historical allusions, and important reading theories. It also contains interactive videos that support comprehension, such as videos about anecdotes referenced in the text and videos explaining terms discussed by the author. Over the course of the book, students will answer Common Core questions and quizzes related to the subjects of evaluating multimedia, analyzing the effectiveness of the author's argument, and summarizing the argument's major points. This free online unit will increase student engagement while building reading comprehension.

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In these lines, Thomas Foster describes a literary theory referred to as "reader-response criticism": the idea that a reader creates meaning in a text by allowing his or her personal background to shape his or her understanding of the characters and their decisions. Can you think of a character from a book you have read that you felt you could relate to? Why did you feel that way? 
According to Foster, how did John Fowles and Gabriel Garcia Marquez "save" the novel? 
In 2003, Thomas Foster used his experience as a college professor at the University of Michigan-Flint to write "How to Read Literature Like a Professor." The book is very similar to this one, but has a larger focus on elements present in plays, poems, and short stories as well. (This annotation contains an image)
How does Foster intend to structure the chapters of this book? 


What did Madame de La Fayette and Miguel de Cervantes do which made their writing so noteworthy? 
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently. What, for instance, does "quixotic"- a word originating with Don Quixote- mean? 
In the highlighted line, Foster uses a metaphor. What does this metaphor mean? 
The style of novel described here is referred to as a "serial novel." Like Foster says, it was published piece by piece, rather than all at once as a whole. Can you think of any modern entertainment mediums which employ this format? 
According to legend, readers were so invested in the story of Little Nell that the citizens of New York rushed the pier when the ship carrying the next installment arrived from England, desperately yelling "Is Nell alive?" at the sailors as they unloaded the shipment. (This annotation contains an image)
Why did novels change so drastically between the Victorian era and the modern era? 
"Stream of consciousness" is a writing style which attempts to reflect to the reader the interior monologue of the characters. In the next few pages, Foster will give a sample of some of the most famous examples of this style. What is your opinion of this narrative choice? 
Why did Foster include the first two paragraphs of Finnegan's Wake in this chapter? 
Foster throws a lot of cliches into this paragraph. Here's another one: "if it's not broke, don't fix it." Why do you think so many authors strive to break new ground? 
Which of the following is closest to what Foster means when he says "every literary history is a lie, including this one"? 

Chapter 1

How many of these lines did you recognize? In order, these are the first lines of "A Clockwork Orange," "Mrs. Dalloway," "The Good Soldier," "One Hundred Years of Solitude," and "Water Music." 
What type of information can a reader glean from the first line of a novel? 
The link below will take you to a gallery of 30 of the best opening lines from novels. Pick a line or two, and see how many of the following eighteen concepts you can glean from that one line. (This annotation contains a link)
If an opening line of a novel reveals that the narrator is the main character's college roommate, which of the following has this line revealed? 
The opening line of A Tale of Two Cities gives the reader a sense of which of the following elements? 
Below is the opening line of Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities." Read the line, and use it to answer the following question. (This annotation contains an image)
Think about a novel you have picked up, but decided not to read. What turned you off? Can you classify it using one or more of Foster's 18 criteria from this chapter? 
In this chapter, Thomas Foster attempts to persuade the reader to believe that the opening line of a novel is which of the following? 

Chapter 2

Use the "define" feature to look up the word artifice. After reading the definitions, which of the following seems to be the closest to how Foster uses it in this sentence? 
Use the "define" tool to look up the definition of "verisimilitude," as it is an important literary term. From what you've read about "Ulysses" in this chapter, how does this novel demonstrate verisimilitude? 
Earlier in the chapter, Foster cited Marianne Moore's famous line that poetry must create "Imaginary gardens with real toads in them." Explain, in your own words, what Moore's idea and the line highlighted here mean for the setting of a novel. 
St. Thomas Aquinas developed a set of criteria for beauty; the final standard is wholeness. In order for something to be considered beautiful, it must be complete and lacking nothing essential to its overall nature. (This annotation contains an image)

Chapter 3

According to Foster, the point of view which most closely imitates our real-life understanding of other people is called 
According to Foster, the choice of point of view has an incredible impact on the novel. Besides the ideas listed here, what else would change if your favorite book was narrated from a different perspective? 
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are one of the most famous detective-and-assistant pairs in history, but Hercule Poirot is slightly more obscure to general audiences. Poirot was created by Agatha Christie, and appeared in over 30 of of her novels and 50 of her short stories- most famously in "Murder on the Orient Express." (This annotation contains an image)
What is the effect of Foster listing the same seven points as both advantages and disadvantages? 
The character Grendel originated in "Beowulf." A muderous hell-beast descended from Cain, Grendel terrorizes a mead hall in Denmark for twelve years, savagely murdering men on a nightly basis until Beowulf shows up to save the day. Whereas "Beowulf" is told from a third-person perspective, John Gardner's novel tells the story of "Beowulf" from Grendel's first-person perspective. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following is not a primary reason point of view is important to a novel? 

Chapter 4

Be careful when interpreting Foster's use of the word "lying" in this chapter. While some narrators deliberately distort truth, others may simply show a preference or bias for something which makes them display that thing in a positive light- which can be a form of lying, if we take the narrator's word as fact.  (This annotation contains an image)
According to this chapter, Huck Finn is an unreliable narrator because he is 
The link below will take you to a gallery of ten of literature's most unreliable narrators. Take a look at some of the narrators on the list. Using what you have learned from this chapter, why might each of those different authors have decided to use an unreliable narrator? (This annotation contains a link)
Foster discusses all of the following types of unreliable narrators in these examples except 
According to Foster, what should the reader do when encountering a first-person narrator? 

Chapter 5

These sentences draw an important distinction between the last chapters and this new one. Make sure you understand what Foster means by "voice" before continuing. 
Barbara Kingsolver's "The Poisonwood Bible" was published in 1998, and is widely considered to be Kingsolver's best work. The novel follows the Price family over the course of three decades, beginning with their family's missionary trip to the Congo and tracing the effects and ramifications this trip has on the structure of the family. (This annotation contains an image)
Use the "define" tool to look up malapropisms. Based on the definition, which of the following words or phrases from the passage is a malapropism? 
In general, why does Foster include so many passages from novels in his chapters? 
Some books, such as Ernest Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms" and Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women," are so closely modeled on the author's lives that they make up a genre called "autobiographical fiction." Though it's easy to take these novels as fact, Foster's warning about narrative voice is important to keep in mind. (This annotation contains an image)
According to Foster, narrative voice is created through all of the following except 

Chapter 6

When the last Harry Potter book was released, many critics compared the excitement over that novel to "The Old Curiosity Shop" by Charles Dickens. Both novels featured characters that audiences became completely emotionally invested in. Click below for an ABC news video comparing the two literary phenomenons. (This annotation contains a video)
Use the "define" tool to look up "punters." Foster isn't talking about football here! 
What does Foster mean by the term "verbal construct"? 
Here's a picture of Peter O'Toole in "Lord Jim." Judge for yourself- how does this image compare to the description above? (This annotation contains an image)
According to Foster, what is the primary reason why characters are different depending on who reads them? 

Chapter 7

Although this chapter primarily focuses on despicable protagonists, the term "anti-hero" doesn't necessarily need to mean "bad person." The Ted-Ed video below gives a milder (and also accurate) definition of the term which also applies to the ideas expressed in this chapter. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following is the most accurate statement about the development of protagonists in literature? 
Explain this "Law of Bad Actors" in your own words. Why do they need to "give us something in return"? 
Named for Lord Byron, the Byronic hero is a brooding, mysterious, and dark romantic hero. Considered a little rough around the edges, the Byronic hero is often said to be "mad, bad, and dangerous to know." Click on the video below for some examples of Byronic heroes in contemporary films and television shows. (This annotation contains a video)
Part One Quiz 

Chapter 8

Recent novels like Colum McCann's "Let the Great World Spin" and Khaled Hosseini's "And the Mountains Echoed" are examples of this idea. Each chapter features a different protagonist who is loosely related to the central narrative. Only by reading each chapter and piecing together how the characters are related is the whole story revealed. (This annotation contains an image)
The comparison of a Victorian novel to a "series of exaggerated smiley-faces hooked together" is an example of a(n) 
Think back to what you know about the structure of Victorian novels. Why were cliffhangers "an economic imperative"? 
Which of the following is the best analogy for a chapter's function in a novel, according to Foster? 
For whom is dividing a book into chapters beneficial, and why? 
Even though this book isn't a novel, it still contains chapters. How are the chapters constructed in this book? 

Chapter 9

In your own words, explain what Foster means by this paradox. 
An example of a paradox is Oscar Wilde's famous quote, "I can resist anything but temptation." Use the "define" tool to look up a definition of this literary term. 
Foster is paraphrasing a line from Shakespeare's play "Julius Caesar": "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in our selves." What connection or point is Foster trying to make by invoking this line? 
The literary term which most closely corresponds to the concept of "learn[ing] things" from books is 

Chapter 10

A mnemonic is any device or tool meant to assist remembering something. In this case, associating a signature item or action with a character helps to keep track of who is who. (This annotation contains an image)
Why did Charles Dickens give his characters such unique, unusual, and distinctive names? 
The video below provides a definition of the literary term "motif." (This annotation contains a video)
In this example from A Passage to India, which of the following is the the recurring motif which creates a theme? 
This is a famous piece of advice among writing teachers: show, don't tell. Think of the most important possessions you own. What do those reveal about you? 
Which of the following is the best definition of the term "objective correlative" as it is used in this chapter? 

Chapter 11

Back in the age of serial novels, authors were given a certain amount of space in the weekly publication to fill. Although Charles Dickens was not truly paid by the word, the length of his novels (as well as the number of subplots and characters) lead some to joke that he was. (This annotation contains an image)
In this particular "relish" example, Foster argues that words matter because they 
In this particular "Faulkner" example, Foster argues that words matter because they 
Ernest Hemingway was famously sparse with his words, remarking that an author should seek to "write the best story you can and write it as straight as you can." According to one legend, Hemingway is the author of the world's most famous six-word story: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." (This annotation contains an image)
In your own words, explain Foster's view of the role of the reader of a novel. 
Foster alludes in this line to an old riddle: "if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?" What is the link to his argument? (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following statements about word choice would Foster agree with? 
The final episode of James Joyce's "Ulysses" is called "Penelope," and consists entirely of a stream-of-consciousness soliloquy narrated from Molly's perspective. The video below provides the last fifty lines of this famous soliloquy. (This annotation contains a video)

Chapter 12

In contrast to Hemingway's philosophy on writing, cited in an annotation in the last chapter, Faulkner said, "[A writer] must never be satisfied with what he does. It never is as good as it can be done. Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do." (This annotation contains an image)
Hemingway reflects Frederic Henry's grief and disillusionment through his 
Hemingway subscribed to the "iceberg theory of writing": focus on the events being detailed, but leave a significant layer of meaning and themes unsaid under the surface. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following would Foster offer as the reason that so many students create poor overall pieces of writing when attempting to imitate classic authors? 
Having a distinctive, ornate style can define a writer as a master from a literary perspective, but may not make one popular. Having a clear, transparent style can define a writer as a master from a popular perspective, but may not make one a classic. This is an example of 
Use the "define" tool to look up "transparent." Which of the definitions is Foster using here? 

Chapter 13

This quotation comes from a 1923 essay penned by Woolf called "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown." In the essay, Woolf claims that a shift in consciousness and the way people related to one another was the cause of all the changes which had occurred in modernist literature. (This annotation contains an image)
"Stream of consciousness" refers to which of the following? 
How does stream of consciousness differ from traditional first person narration? 
What adjectives would you use to describe stream of consciousness writing? Impressionistic? Brief? Scattered? 
Imagist poets used clear and precise language to convey a single, clear image. One famous example is Ezra Pound's short poem "In a Station of the Metro," printed in its entirety in the picture below. (This annotation contains an image)
In what way does the October 1969 cover of The New Yorker relate to the concept of stream of consciousness? 
Below is the cover of the October 1969 edition of "The New Yorker." Look at the image, and use it to answer the next question. (This annotation contains an image)
Authors create stream of consciousness through their use of 

Chapter 14

There are two types of characterization: direct and indirect. Direct characterization is when an author explicitly gives information about the character. Indirect characterization must be inferred through the author's descriptions of the character's appearance, actions, thoughts, or speech. The video below gives additional information on how authors develop their characters. (This annotation contains a video)
The image below contains the famous final paragraph of "The Great Gatsby." In it, the green light (mentioned by Foster) not only characterizes Gatsby, but takes on larger thematic meaning for the whole novel. (This annotation contains an image)
Why is it important to understand a character's desires? 
In addition to revealing character, knowing what a character desires adds ________ to the text. 
Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying" is the story of the Bundren family- father Anse and five children- as they embark on a quest to fulfill their deceased mother's wish to be burried in a neighboring county. The book features fifteen different narrators, so the characters' emblems and desires help to differentiate and define them. (This annotation contains an image)

Chapter 15

Use the "define" feature to look up metafiction. If you were going to explain the definition to someone in your own words, which of the following adjectives would be appropriate for you to use in your definition? 
Click below to watch a clip very similar to the one Foster describes here. (This annotation contains a video)
Foster argues that one problem with metafiction is that it can make an author seem ________, frustrating the reader. 
In "Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead," author Tom Stoppard explores an absurd, metafictional premise: what do characters in a play do when they aren't on the stage? (This annotation contains an image)
For more on Foster's thoughts on Barth, see the introduction to this book. 
Explain what Foster means by saying that all novels involve pretense. 
The main character of "The Things They Carried" is named Tim O'Brien, and seems to be a fictional version of the author. Yet, throughout the text the fictional O'Brien repeatedly points out that he is fictional, and that what he describes didn't actually occur. The novel blends the lines between reality and fiction, asking the reader to figure out where the boundary between the two is. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following are types of metafiction? 
Part Two Quiz 

Chapter 16

What does Foster imply is the main source of writers' inspiration? 
"The Devil Wears Prada" is a 2003 novel by Lauren Weisberger about a young girl working as an assistant for a high-powered and extremely demanding editor of a fashion magazine. The novel is a thinly veiled fictionalization of Weisberger's time working as an intern for Anna Wintour, the editor of "Vogue" magazine. (This annotation contains an image)
"The Decameron" is the story of ten people who flee to a villa in the country in Italy to avoid the plague which is ravaging their home city of Florence. While in the villa, each of the ten strangers tells one story a night for ten days, resulting in one hundred total stories.  (This annotation contains an image)
The verb "to crib" means "to pilfer or steal," and can also mean "to plagiarize." What prevents the novels discussed in this section from being examples of plagiarism? 
What do Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Nikos Kazantzakis have in common? 
Mark Twain had a distinct hatred for Jane Austen, once remarking, "I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin." 
In 1903, George Edalji was wrongly accused of a series of animal maimings in a small town in England. Edalji was sentenced to seven years of hard labor. His case gained notaraiety when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle began campaigning for his conviction to be overturned, and the whole incident then became the basis of Julian Barnes' book. (This annotation contains an image)
This statement is an example of 


Which of the following statements is the closest in meaning to what Foster is discussing when he alludes to "reading with your ears"? 
Click below to watch the video from "Pirates of the Carribbean: At World's End" which Foster alludes to here. (This annotation contains a video)
Use the "define" feature to define derivative. Which of the following is the best synonym for "derivative"? 
Written in 1996, "Bridget Jones' Diary" is a novel written in the form of a dairy about a year in the life of a 30 year old British woman, Bridget Jones. The novel was inspired by "Pride and Prejudice" and brings many aspects of Austen's original story into the 20th century- including a romantic lead with the last name of Darcy. (This annotation contains an image)
According to Foster, in the "dialogue" between older and newer texts, what is the role of a new text? 
The video below features Bryan Ferry covering a Bob Dylan song, as discussed in this paragraph. Do you agree with Foster's argument that reinterpretation can help to expand or reevaluate your understanding or appreciation of the source material? (This annotation contains a video)
What does Foster mean by saying "there is only One Story"? 

Chapter 17

The word "agency" is used here in the sense of "action, power, or operation." What do you interpret Foster 's phrase "the agency of novels" to mean? 
According to Foster, what is the main appeal of "looking glass novels" like Harry Potter? 
The novels alluded to here make up the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The stories follow a band of nine creatures- two men, a wizard, a dwarf, an elf, and four hobbits- as they embark on a quest to destroy the "One Ring to rule them all." The protagonist, Frodo, is a perfectly ordinary hobbit, whose adventure elevates him to the level of a hero. (This annotation contains an image)
According to the chart, which of the following statements is not true? 
"Great Expectations" famously has two endings- the one which Dickens initially planned, and the one which he wrote after his friend encouraged him not to publish the original because it was too sad. Most editions of the book publish both endings, leading to much debate and discussion about which was the better choice. If you don't mind spoilers, you can find the original here. (This annotation contains a link)
Foster already referred to this quotation in Chapter 2, when discussing how all settings in novels are inherently fictional. How does the quote apply in a new way to the topic of this chapter?  
Why do you suppose a character needs to be "far enough away" to be entertaining? 

Chapter 18

Immanuel Kant was a famous 18th century German philospher who is especially known for his contributions to the field of metaphysics. (This annotation contains an image)
Foster argues that in order to be a good book, a novel must be both 
Which of the following is not an example of a type of "big idea" Foster discusses in this chapter? 
Chinua Achebe, an African author, took offense at Joseph Conrad's portrayal of the African characters in "Heart of Darkness" as dehumanized savages and cannibals. Later, Achebe explored the same themes found in "Heart of Darkness" in his own novel, "Things Fall Apart." (This annotation contains an image)

Chapter 19

Which of the following most closely resembles the "upside down and backwards novel" that Foster alludes to here? 
Use the "define" feature to look up the word "composite." Using that definition, what do you think a composite novel is? 
Foster believes that the concept of what a novel is can best be described as 
Before you read the chart on the next page, think about how you define a novel. What criteria must a text have to earn the title "novel"? 
What is the purpose of this chart? In your opinion, how successful is it in making its point? Why? 
Even in Victorian times, money and marketability played a huge role in the novel industry. What are some ways that money and marketability affect authors in today's society? 
Which of the following novels would be most likely to utilize an unconventional novel structure? 

Chapter 20

The novel in question is "Ulysses." "Yes" is the last word in Molly Bloom's book-ending soliloquy. 
Which of the following does Foster not imply played a role in the Victorian authors' propensity for tidy endings? 
The Victorian era is named for Queen Victoria, England's longest-serving monarch. When Queen Victoria's husband died, she entered a state of public mourning which endured for the rest of her life. The era has come to be associated with manners and strict morality, as Victorian men and women were expected to maintain high standards of etiquette and highly moral public images. (This annotation contains an image)
Use the "define" tool to look up bildungsroman. Based on the definition, which of the following themes are you most likely to encounter in a bildungsroman? 
The term "deus ex machina" literally translates to "god out of the machine." Foster explains the origin of the term below. The term is used more loosely today, meaning any kind of ending which seems too tidy or too contrived for the sake of reaching closure. "Lord of the Flies" is often criticized for having a deus ex machina ending. (This annotation contains an image)
Although it received generally positive reviews and was nominated for several Academy Awards, the film version of "Women in Love" was not without controversy. Most notably, a nude wrestling scene between two male character led the movie to be banned in Turkey and to receive an X rating in the United Kingdom. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following groups is most associated with ambiguous endings? 

Chapter 21

Each year, the Nobel Prize for Literature is granted to an author from any country who has written "the most outstanding work in an ideal direction," in the words of Alfred Nobel. Typically, the work goes to an author whose work addresses large, idealistic topics, such as human rights.  (This annotation contains an image)
Taking into consideration what Foster is trying to prove with these two lists, provide new titles for "Column A" and "Column B." Why did you choose these new names? 
Most of the historical novels Foster uses as examples in this section focus which of the following aspects of history? 
All four of the authors cited here wrote during the Romantic time period or shortly thereafter. Their nineteenth century works focused on different aspects of America's identity: Native Americans, slavery, Puritan culture, and seafaring. (This annotation contains an image)
The Irish Free State was established in 1922. Prior to its establishment, Ireland was a British colony. For hundreds of years, the British peoples mistreated the Irish citizens, leading to years of discontent and violence as Ireland struggled to become an independent country. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the literary term for the type of writing described by Foster here, in which aspects of a novel symbolically stand for other people or concepts, leading to a deeper theme? 
From 1916 to 1922, David Lloyd-George was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. A Liberal, Lloyd-George was incredibly influential in the politics of World War I and brokering the terms of the peace treaty which restructured Europe following the war. (This annotation contains an image)

Chapter 22

Which of the following words best describes the nature of the relationship between an author and a reader, as described by Foster? 
In 2012, a critically-acclaimed film version of "Great Expectations" was released. Click below to get a taste of the novel. (This annotation contains a video)
Foster believes that the person with the most power over a book is the 
Upon its publication in 1988, "The Satanic Verses" set off a series of controversies. The book was seen by some Muslims to be blasphemous, and its author, Salman Rushdie, came under intense scrutiny and criticism. In 1989, the Ayatollah of Iran declared a fatwa (a legal opinion in the Islamic faith) for Muslims to kill Rushdie. Consequently, Rushdie went into a form of hiding, moving fifty-six times in just a few months for his own protection. (This annotation contains an image)
In your own words, summarize the "social contract" between the author and the reader as described by Foster. 
Foster believes that novels are all of the following except 


How many examples of creation myths- both religious and cultural- can you think of? 
The term Foster uses to describe the interplay between texts is 
Part Three Quiz