When I found out I was required to read “How to Read Literature Like A Professor” for AP Lit, I was both intrigued and anxious. I have always been an avid reader, but a purely emotional reader (or as Thomas C. Foster would put it, a “lay reader”). This has never come in handy when writing analytical essays. Or blog posts, for that matter. I was intrigued because I had always wondered how I might become better at reading through a critical lens or going on a literary scavenger hunt. I was anxious because I knew that if this was any preview to AP Lit next year, I’m going to be screwed. Unless I miraculously get better at English. Nevertheless, I trudged onward and began to read the book, already doubting my decision to sign up for 6 AP classes in the most stressful time of my life. I was half-expecting the chapters of this book to be worse than those of The Thirteen American Arguments by Howard Fineman. I was pleasantly surprised. Not only are Foster’s chapters interesting and easy to read – they are actually insightful and not in a priggish sense.
The first chapter of How to Read Literature Like a Professor begins where every freshman English class does – the quest. I often confuse this with the Hero’s Journey, though I suppose I won’t anymore. Foster explains the five components of a quest: a quester, a place to go, a stated reason to go there, challenges and trials en route, and a real reason to go there. Subconsciously, I think I already knew and recognized each of these components, but I had never had them explicitly revealed to me. Three pages into the book and I had already learned something without crying about it.
I soon realized that I will probably cling to this book for a good part of senior year, at least until I have memorized each important idea. The way Foster teaches literature to the reader reminded me of my eighth grade English teacher, who changed the way I looked at literature. So for some reason, I placed extra trust in what Foster was saying. Especially when he stated, “The real reason for a quest never involves the stated reason” and the main idea of the chapter that, “The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge.” Foster then ends the chapter stating that “never” and “always” don’t apply to literature – something my eighth grade English teacher taught me that has always stuck. At this point, I was starting to think of stories that are quests in disguise.
At this point, I couldn’t stop thinking about The Sandlot. Out of all the typical quest stories – The Lion King, The Odyssey, Star Wars, The Catcher In The Rye, etc., I thought of The Sandlot. This led to my discovery that Smalls and Benny’s attempt at retrieving the autographed baseball was, in fact, a quest. The questers being Smalls and Benny, the baseball’s location their place to go, the retrieval of the baseball as the stated reason, their failed attempts at retrieving it as their challenges and trials, and the lesson they learn from Mr.Mertle as their real reason to go there. This revelation served as a promising start to my own journey in learning how to read like a professor.