Quotes from How to Read Literature Like a Professor

Thomas C. Foster ·  314 pages

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“Education is mostly about institutions and getting tickets stamped; learning is what we do for ourselves. When we're lucky, they go together. If I had to choose, I'd take learning.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“Always" and "never" are not words that have much meaning in literary study. For one thing, as soon as something seems to always be true, some wise guy will come along and write something to prove that it's not.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“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.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“So what did you think the devil would look like? If he were red with a tail, horns, and cloven hooves, any fool could say no.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“His argument runs like this: there is no goodness without free will. Without the ability to freely choose-or reject-the good, an individual possesses no control over his own soul, and without that control, there is not possibility of attaining grace. In the language of Christianity, a beliver cannot be saved unless the choice to follow Christ is freely made, unless the option not to follow him genuinely exists. Compelled belief is no belief at all.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor



“Reading...is a full-contact sport; we crash up against the wave of words with all of our intellectual, imaginative, and emotional resources.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“Every reader’s experience of every work is unique, largely because each person will emphasize various elements to differing degrees, and those differences will cause certain features of the text to become more or less pronounced. We bring an individual history to our reading, a mix of previous readings, to be sure, but also a history that includes, but is not limited to, educational attainment, gender, race, class, faith, social involvement, and philosophical inclination. These factors will inevitably influence what we understand in our reading, and nowhere is this individuality clearer than in the matter of symbolism.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“Reading is an activity of the imagination, and the imagination in question is not the writer's alone.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“In order to remain undead, I must steal the life force of someone whose fate matters less to me than my own.' I've always supposed that Wall Street traders utter essentially the same sentence.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“Everything is a symbol of something, it seems, until proven otherwise.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor



“Rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“Don't wait for writers to be dead to be read; the living ones can use the money.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“Real people are made out of a whole lot of things—flesh, bone, blood, nerves, stuff like that. Literary people are made out of words.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“What happens if the writer is good is usually not that the work seems derivative or trivial but just the opposite: the work actually acquires depth and resonance from the echoes and chimes it sets up with prior texts, weight from the accumulated use of certain basic patterns and tendencies. Moreover, works are actually more comforting because we can recognize elements of them from our prior reading. I suspect that a wholly original work, one that owed nothing to previous writing, would so lack familiarity as to be quite unnerving to readers.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“If a story is no good, being based on Hamlet won't save it.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor



“The difference between being Achilles and almost being Achilles is the difference between living and dying.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“Please note, I am not suggesting that illicit drugs are required to break down social barriers.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“Every language has a grammar, a set of rules that govern usage and meaning, and literary language is no different. It’s all more or less arbitrary of course, just like language itself.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“Everywhere you look, the ground is already camped on. So you sigh and pitch your tent where you can, knowing someone else has been there before.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“We have to bring our imaginations to bear on a story if we are to see all it's possibilitiess; otherwise it's just about somebody who did something. Whatever we take away from stories in the way of significance, symbolism, theme, meaning, pretty much anything except character and plot, we discover because our imagination engages with that of the author. Pretty amazing when you consider that the author may have been dead for thousands of years, yet we can still have this exchange, this dialogue, with her.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor



“Whenever people eat or drink together, it's communion.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“The real reason for quest is always self-knowledge.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“Professors also read, and think, symbolically. Everything is a symbol of something, it seems, until proven otherwise.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“History is story, too. You don't encounter her directly; you've only heard of her through narrative of one sort or another.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“If to get to the finish line the hero must walk over a sea of bodies, then so be it. He can die at said line, but he's got to get there.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor



“Compelled belief is no belief at all.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“Memory. Symbol. Pattern. These are the three items that, more than any other, separate the professorial reader from the rest of the crowd.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


“of his need to assert responsibility for his own life. It may be that Adela does panic in the face of Nothingness, only recovering herself when she takes responsibility by recanting in the witness box. Perhaps it’s all about nothing more than her own self-doubts, her own psychological or spiritual difficulties.”
― Thomas C. Foster, quote from How to Read Literature Like a Professor


About the author

Thomas C. Foster
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