How to Read Literature Like a Professor: For Kids by Thomas C. Foster

How to Read Literature Like a Professor: For Kids is exactly its title.  I, however, found that I had a difficult time enjoying the book.  Because I am what you may call a “Do it Yourselfer” I like to develop my own practices and ways of going about things by experiencing the world for myself. I would rather teach myself how to paint rather than take lessons from a professional in order to develop my own unique style.

In the same sense, when reading, I analyze it my way. Foster may think that he is merely helping young readers learn to see the signs in literature that lead us to understand it for themselves (though had that been his true intention the title of his book might have been something like How to Read Literature For Yourself) but in reality, he is molding young minds to see literature as he does. The way that I see it, the more people who read this book, the closer we are to a dystopian thought process.

Literature is an art form, much like painting, music or drama, and should be treated as such.  Foster subtly suggests that it is, in fact, an equation that can only be solved one way, his way, such as a computer program. Of course, like anybody would, Foster denies this, claiming that he is only showing you that the signs exist. If this were true, he could have written a persuasive essay instead of a book about what these sights mean. Somebody reading this book is obviously struggling in the field of English. Does he really expect them to have the ambition to interpret the sigh an on their own? No, they will simply take his word for it. If Foster says pasta is a protein, they will blindly believe it.  Being an outspoken advocate for individuality, this book struck quite a chord with me.  I think that everyone’s own ideas are beautiful and that symbols don’t always mean one thing, that we should have conversations about what a work of literature means to us, not settle on one theme.  The quarrel over a scene’s outcome, not just accept the way it turned out to be morally correct if you feel that it is not.  We must stay true to ourselves and our view of the world based off of our morals, not let our minds be re-arranged to match others.  On a more positive note, I must amend Foster on the wide range of books, short stories, etc. in which he uses as examples to express his thoughts.  After reading this book, I found numerous new titles to explore.

If you are familiar with the works of Rick Riordan or John Green, you will find that Foster’s writing style and tone reflects there’s.  Perhaps this is for the audience he presumably is addressing, which the book recommends for 8 to 12-year-olds.  Some may be exasperated by my comparing of these authors to one who wrote a book aimed at that age group, so allow me to elaborate:  Foster writes in a laid back, childlike manner in order to appeal to the age group as Riordan and Green write in a laid back manner, because, well, the characters that tell their stories are still (to some extent) children.  I am not trying to poo-poo that style of writing, I am merely making a comparison.  If you are attracted to that style, you may find this book a refreshing alternative to the likes of Call of the Wild or Oliver Twist (not to cast shadows on those either).  

Calling all Hermiones:  You’ll have a field day correcting some of Foster’s mistakes about Greek Mythology.  I would not go as far to say that I know everything about everything when it comes to Greek Mythology, after all, there is probably still more crumbling under the weight of the ruins that lay atop them like a crown.  However, I know enough to know that Foster either got a few points wrong, or one of us took a wrong turn in our time machines back to Ancient Greece.  If you are a free thinker: never read this book, ever.  It is a waste of your time and your beautiful mind.  If you could use a little help in the good old subject of English, you may find this book informative.  Either way, like any book, take it with a grain of salt.  

-Ainsley H. 

How to Read Literature Like a Professor: For Kids by Thomas C. Foster is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I first read The Alchemist when I was around eleven or so. The book was confusing to me, and although I enjoyed it, I felt as if I was missing the bigger picture in some way. The book contained a lot of symbolism and themes that I was slightly too young to fully comprehend.

Revisiting this six years later, I understand this book to be more than a fantastical adventure across Africa towards untold riches and going through trials and tribulations to come out on top. It is deep and the message resonated with me after I finished reading it.

This novel is not about the practice of alchemy or the journey of a young man, Santiago. At least, not solely about either of those. The main idea, or theme, is how fear often controls people. The novel proposes the idea that everyone has what it calls a Personal Legend. A Personal Legend is a goal that the universe has put out for someone or a dream they want to accomplish. This is supposed to bring someone ultimate satisfaction for completing it and in order to continue living a satisfactory life and achieve happiness new Personal Legends are continuously set out after one has been completed. However, throughout the book examples are shown of people who are often too afraid to fulfill their Personal Legend, and thus find themselves stuck in an endless routine, or feeling empty as a result of the fear holding them back.

Although following your Personal Legend can come at a price, like Santiago losing all his money while in a foreign country, this is the universe testing people and seeing if they are truly strong enough or dedicated enough to keep going. It rewards people who push past obstacles or get up to continue trying even when they fall.

Coelho is trying to encourage the readers of the story to go out and experience their own adventures, fulfill their own Personal Legends, lest you fall into a cycle, doomed to dissatisfaction.

Santiago is someone we look at as a reflection of ourselves. He has a comfortable life living in a certain way without changing, but his life is stagnant. Until he makes that decision to look at signs being given to him and taking a leap of faith to begin his journey. At first, it does not go well. He goes to a foreign country, loses nearly all his money to a con man, and has nothing but the clothes on his back. However, he begins working for a crystal merchant, and over time gains money. Although he is deciding to go back to Andalusia, at the last minute he decides to continue his journey to completing his Personal Legend in Egypt. He faces many hardships, almost dying along the way, but eventually, he makes it back to Andalusia, where he finds treasures waiting for him.

The story as a whole is actually inspiring. It shows that achieving your goal is not easy, nor should it be. But it is rewarding seeing it through to the end, and the satisfaction of fulfilling a goal that you worked hard to achieve is (in Coelho’s opinion) the way to have a happy, good life.

-Farrah M. 

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive

My 10th Grade Reading List

I am not particularly fond of reading a required set of novels for school, but these three below really changed my perspective on this. For my sophomore year, the literature was based upon the theme of “loss of innocence,” and I thoroughly enjoyed reading these classics for what they had to offer.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding:

It was the second time that I read this book, and I was absolutely astonished for all that I missed the first read through. Lord of the Flies is about a group of young boys who are stranded on an island. As they attempt to create order and society, their childish fears and greed thus bring out an unpredictable evilness that spreads among them. Golding walks us through the positive and negative aspects of human civilization and how it can be so easy to be manipulated by and drawn towards the dark nature of mankind.

1984 by George Orwell:

Although the hardest read out of the list, 1984 is still full of many mysterious and intriguing secrets throughout the entire novel. The protagonist Winston Smith lives in a dystopian society, where all its people praise their beloved leader Big Brother, who is never wrong and is never imperfect. The totalitarian government controls everything, including the past, present, and future, as well as strips their citizens of privacy and freedom of self-thought. Despite all this, Winston sees past the lies of his society and tries to solve the biggest mystery of his life. In his book, Orwell describes how ultimate totalitarian power can create an inhumane world of manipulation and can strip away the human identity.

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger:

Catcher in the Rye is a lot easier to understand, but I got just as much out of it as the other classics. J.D. Salinger writes in the perspective of teenager Holden Caulfield and describes his short vacation spent in New York City after dropping out of his boarding school. Holden is a very cynical character – he believes that he is too mature and too good for anyone else. However, once Holden is exposed to the adult world and all of life’s imperfections, Salinger stresses the importance of childhood and the enjoyable experience of growing up.

-Riley W.

These titles–and other classic novels–can be checked out from the Mission Viejo Library. 

Passion For Reading

There was a time in my life when I talked about books as though they were sustenance, as though they were essential to my survival. I devoured stories and inhaled pages. I vividly remember checking out four, five, six books at time and somehow finishing them all before the two weeks were up.

Though that experience is shared with many people, a majority of adults fail to make time for reading.

I often wonder where that passion goes.

To most people, reading is thought of as a chore, or something for the forgotten bottom end of a to-do list. Reading is a fizzling New Year’s Resolution. Reading is a Barnes & Noble credit card but dusty shelves.

When people talk about getting back into reading, it is as though they are starting a new project at work, as though they are radically changing their schedules.

New units of time have to be carved out of a schedule, clearly labeled “READ” in blocky black lettering. Books fill shopping bags, along with all the obviously necessary accessories to reading – fancy bookmarks and clip on lights and slogan-laden tote bags – because now, you are a Reader.

There is something lost in this frenzy. In this sort of Oprah’s Book Club, unbroken-spine kind of reading, books are a status symbol.

I find myself in this rut occasionally. Rearranging and rearranging the same shelves with an obsessiveness, buying War and Peace and Les Miserables because they’re the sort of books a pretentious academic like myself should have.

I miss that feeling that all library-bound children have. That feeling that there were an infinite amount of words in the world, and if I only read fast enough, flipped enough pages, then I would be able to drink them all in.

So many people have a desire to read; to become that excited kid again. We want to be the one who’s not only Heard of That, but Read It. We want to know authors and quotes and have worn paperbacks to pass on to friends and family. We want to feel that love and intensity that stories used to inspire.

I truly believe that feeling is still inside every adult today. Maybe it’s buried under stress and deadlines and distraction, but it’s there.

All we have to do is find the right book.

-Zoe K., 11th grade

Find your right book at the Mission Viejo Library. Titles are also available to download through Overdrive and Hoopla.