"How To Read Literature Like A Professor"

How To Read Literature Like A Professor by Thomas C. Foster

What a great find! I've been looking for something to help me get more from my reading and was lucky to find good used copies of this one and How To Read Novels Like A Professor by the same author. I expected something along the line of a text book, maybe a bit dry but with helpful information; instead I got one of the most entertaining books I've read in a long time.

Thomas Foster must be popular as a professor. He's smart, funny and down-to-earth and I found myself more than once wishing I could sit in on his classes. Anybody who can make learning this breezy and interesting, and this much fun, has my admiration and my gratitude. 

Some of the chapter titles will give you an idea of the topics covered: Every Trip Is A Quest; Nice To Eat With You: Acts of Communion; When In Doubt, It's From Shakespeare; Is That A Symbol?; It's All Political; Geography Matters and It's Never Just Heart Disease. Every chapter taught me how to look for things that I had been missing much of the time and every book I've picked up since has been more interesting as a result.

If you want to get more from the books you're reading, and you want to have a good time learning how, this is the book for you. If you have an education in literature, you will already know this stuff, but for ordinary readers like me, this is a must read. A wonderful book!

"The Last Town On Earth"

The Last Town On Earth by Thomas Mullen

In 1918 an epidemic of influenza killed "as many as 100 million" people worldwide (quoted from the author's notes). Commonwealth, a small lumber-mill town (fictional, but not unlike actual towns in the area) in the American southwest, was healthy while other towns weren't, so the leaders held a town meeting to discuss how to keep it that way. The decision was made, with some objections, to quarantine the town and post armed guards on the road to prevent anyone entering or leaving.

 Neighbouring towns had been hit hard, with the flu spreading quickly and claiming the lives of many men, women and children. The leaders in Commonwealth knew they would need everyone's co-operation to hold it off, but they believed they could do it if they totally isolated themselves. They had enough food and supplies to get them through the few weeks they thought it would take.

It wasn't long before their guards were challenged. First a car appeared, full of men who got angry but turned back when the guards brandished firearms. Then a lone soldier approached looking for food and refuge. This one refused to listen to their warnings.

While the guards were dealing with those problems, other men were sneaking off at night through the woods to a nearby town for the liquor and prostitutes offered there. Eventually they carried the virus back with them, and soon, the people of Commonwealth began to fall ill.

The story centers around the family of Charles Worthy, mill owner and town leader, whose adopted son, Philip, is the book's main character. Philip has a physical handicap from a childhood accident but he doesn't let that stop him from taking his turn at the guard post. That decision is about to change his life.

I think when I remember The Last Town On Earth it will be as an average story with average writing. It held my attention most of the time and it drew me in enough to sympathize with the characters, but I found the ending abrupt. I felt the story was unfinished, leaving me with questions about many of the characters. I wanted more, another chapter maybe. It did give me a look at an actual historic event, though, and for me that always makes things more interesting. I'd give it a 6.5 out of 10.


Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

This book is a snapshot of life at a specific time in a specific place. Set in a small country town in the first half of the nineteenth century, it follows the lives of a group of women who are getting by on very little while still trying to maintain the standards they believe are proper and from which they cannot imagine straying.

The narrator is Mary, a young, single woman from another town who spends much of her time visiting friends in Cranford, a place populated mostly by widows and spinsters. I think it was a good move to have the reader look at Cranford from the viewpoint of an outsider. It kept the whole story from becoming too narrow and quaint. Mary is a clear-headed, down-to-earth girl who brings reality to situations that might otherwise seem a bit over the top. The reasoning behind the words and actions of other characters becomes clearer as Mary considers them, but this happens naturally in the writing and doesn't leave you feeling condescended to. I appreciated that aspect of the writing. Actually I liked everything about the writing. 

I love all these ladies trying so hard to maintain a level of propriety as their old way of life is slipping away from them. They are endearing, aggravating and wonderful, inspiring and a little bit sad. Their stories are quiet but they have heart, a lot of heart, and this is a book that leaves an impact. I thought it was lovely and I'd give it a 7.5 out of 10.