How To Read English Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines, published by HarperCollins in 2003, was well-received by audiences, and continues to enjoy a place on the New York Times bestseller list for Education. In light of the work's popularity, the author, Thomas C. Foster, followed his book with the sequels, How to Read Novels Like a Professor in 2008 and How To Read English Like A Professor for Kids in 2013.
How To Read draws heavily on the author's experience as a professor of English - indeed, the book is geared towards students of literature that hope to better understand the analytical process that often takes place in the classrooms and by the teachers. The work is constructed on the age-old idea that books and writing are seldom original - and that, in fact, to get the most out of one's reading experience one has to train oneself to detect patterns, symbolism and historical links all of which are contained in a literary work. Foster illustrates this concept by setting forth key themes and indicators which he finds to be most fundamental to literary reading and analysis, through an approach that is less scholarly and more personal. This instruction manual for students of literature frequently cites works of great fiction and classics so as to provide references for the author's arguments, even concluding with an analysis of a particular twentieth century short story.
The books has been well received by reviewers, lauded particularly by educationalists who have found Foster's work helpful for suggesting novel approaches to reading and making accessible the process of engagement with literature. Many have expressed appreciation of the "Lively and Entertaining" voice of the work, finding that the title lives up to its promise of delivering an engaging read. The work has not, however, been without its criticism. For example, Alan Jacobs, author and Professor, has criticized How to Read by challenging the premise that reading is best done with a highly trained or professional eye, and emphasizes instead the value of reading for pleasure. With a field as complex and vast as literary theory and analysis, judgments on the more elemental characteristics of fictive writing are far from conclusive. Foster himself has admitted to receiving criticism and competing interpretations from his readers, and acknowledges that the ideas presented in his work are subjective and not necessarily comprehensive of literary tools and features.