Literary Criticism Book Is a Million Seller

By Italie, Hillel | Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque), November 6, 2016 | Go to article overview

Literary Criticism Book Is a Million Seller


Italie, Hillel, Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque)


NEW YORK - When Rachel Stewart was a rising senior at Bellbrook High School in Ohio, her assigned reading for Advanced Placement literature included a work of criticism that she dreaded getting through: "How to Read Literature Like a Professor," by Thomas C. Foster.

"When I heard the title, I thought it was going to be pretty boring, but I surprisingly really liked it," says Stewart, now an english major at Ohio State University. "I thought it was presented in an engaging way ... and I would recommend it to others if they want to get some insight on how to analyze literature."

Published in 2003, "How to Read Literature Like a Professor" has been included in hundreds of high school and college courses nationwide and become a word-of-mouth best-seller, with sales topping 1 million copies, according to HarperCollins. Nielsen BookScan, which tracks around 85 percent of the print market, reports more than 100,000 copies sold so far this year.

Foster, 64, is a resident of East Lansing, Michigan, who in 2014 retired as a professor of English at the University of Michigan- Flint. Like many academics, much of his work has been for the scholarly market, including books on poet Seamus Heaney and novelist John Fowles. He first thought of "How to Read Literature Like a Professor" while on sabbatical.

"For some reason, I recalled a silly conversation with a student several years before in which he said he and another student were going to collect the 'sayings of Dr. Tom' into a book," he told The Associated Press.

"I denied that I had sayings and after some back and forth, he came up with every trip is a quest. That became the first chapter title. It turned out there were more of those stock phrases than I had thought. I decided to see if there might be a book in there, and the first few chapters more or less wrote themselves. The later ones were harder, but by then the die was cast."

Foster writes in a conversational style, as if addressing students who expect to be bored. He uses modern slang and likens classic works to contemporary pop culture, whether mentioning Dante and Merle Haggard in the same sentence or finding common ground between Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49" and some famous movies. …

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