How to Read Nonfiction Like a Professor

How to Read Nonfiction Like a Professor Metaphors and Similes

"Open the doors and come out into the air and the light. Hack through a wall and make a door if necessary" (pg. xiv) (Metaphor)

Foster uses this metaphor at the start of his book to make an impassioned plea to his readers. He does not literally want readers to tear down physical walls: rather, he wants them to challenge their biases and prejudices. By learning to read and think critically, Foster believes that readers can be much more open to a variety of viewpoints. The metaphor allows Foster to make his perspective clear: being shut up inside is typically going to be perceived as negative, whereas having access to light and fresh air is going to be perceived as positive. For Foster, being exposed to a range of viewpoints is much more positive than being isolated in one's perspective. The metaphor's request for readers to "hack through the wall" foreshadows that they will need to play an active role in separating truth from falsehood.

"a means of navigating those tricky waters so that we don't capsize or pitch up on the rocks" (pg. 4) (Metaphor)

Foster uses a metaphor to describe the process of critical reading, likening it to sailing through dangerous waters. This metaphor serves several purposes: it communicates the importance of critical reading, hints at what is required, and provides a sense of hope. By comparing reading nonfiction in a thoughtful way to navigating turbulent seas, Foster shows that there are real dangers to reading blindly. Someone who can sail tricky waters is also someone who has learned a skill, possibly taught by experienced sailors, a metaphor for Foster. He wants readers of his book to believe that they can learn to think critically (just like someone could learn to sail) and positions himself as a mentor and guide. Finally, the image of someone sailing through turbulent waters is ultimately a hopeful one: even in a dangerous situation, individuals can keep themselves safe if they know how to do so.

"while helping us to sweep the chaff away from the wheat" (pg. 8) (Metaphor)

In this metaphor, Foster compares the process of discerning which nonfiction sources are trustworthy and useful to the process of separating the wheat from the chaff. This metaphor refers to a process in which an edible grain (such as wheat) has to have its inedible covering (husk or chaff) removed. Thus, the metaphor refers to the process of separating what is useful or valuable from what is useless or even dangerous. The reference to wheat and chaff has a long history in Western thought: the New Testament contains a metaphor in which goodly people are likened to wheat, and sinners to chaff. By using this metaphor in his own writing, Foster heightens the value he is assigning to "good" nonfiction and the danger associated with misleading nonfiction. He also displays his erudition and access to literary history by choosing a metaphor that has a long history. Finally, the metaphor compares good nonfiction to wheat, long considered a staple and essential food source. This metaphor shows that nonfiction can provide an important kind of sustenance to free and democratic societies.

"a newspaper is a diverse neighborhood" (pg. 22) (Metaphor)

When Foster discusses a newspaper and introduces the many different types of writing contained therein, he uses a metaphor comparing a newspaper to a neighborhood. This metaphor serves to make his meaning clearer: a neighborhood is made up of many individuals, but they all have a shared space together, just as a newspaper contains different articles that exist in a relationship together. The metaphor also hints at a deeper meaning: neighborhoods relate to a sense of community, shared responsibility, and civic duties. If someone feels a strong sense of belonging to a neighborhood, they will likely feel a sense of responsibility to behave in certain ways and contribute to that community. Likewise, for Foster, newspapers fulfill a key civic function by sharing information with their readers and creating a sense of identity within a community.

"When you cause earthquakes, you're going to get shaken yourself" (pg. 116) (Metaphor)

Foster uses this metaphor to describe the impact that uncovering the Watergate scandal had on the careers of the two journalists who uncovered the scandal. Foster uses the metaphor of an earthquake to capture just how destabilizing and dangerous such a discovery was for the American public. The metaphor of an earthquake is also effective because it causes indiscriminate impact and can unleash effects that were not anticipated. The journalists who wrote about Watergate could not control the backlash they would face, and yet they took this risk because of how important they found this story to be. The metaphor of the earthquake effectively allows Foster to communicate his respect for these journalists and the risks they took.