How to Read English Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines is a nonfiction literary guide that aims to assist readers and students in their engagement with literature. The book identifies certain literary conventions that guide literature; knowledge of and familiarity with these conventions would enable a beginner reader to become a professional one, and read literature as professors do. A basic premise of the book is that there are different reading levels that range from basic response level to more in depth analysis. Becoming a professional reader entails learning how to read analytically, and the author Thomas C. Foster sets out key characteristics of literature that can aid in developing these analytical skills.
These characteristics - or literary elements - are numerous and while Foster doesn't purport to present all in his guide, he highlights ones that are believed to be most essential. Thus, the book identifies traditions and older texts that literature borrows heavily from and contains allusions to such as Shakespeare, the Bible, Greek mythology, and Fairytales. In addition to considering external influences, How to Read also focuses on elements within the text such as setting, weather, organizational structure (Sonnet), as well as particular themes including blindness, food, supernatural creatures, flight and irony. Thus the conventions considered by the book range from external historic texts, to thematic concerns and finally to text specific features.
Along the way the author also considers broader questions of what literature is, how and why we react to it, the creative process, and the purpose of reading itself. He concludes by an analysis of Katherine Mansfield's short story, "The Garden Party," to provide, by way of example, professorial reading and analysis - a practical application of the points set forth in the book.