Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Professor in Your Pocket

Scouring the aisles at Hastings, I often find unexpected little treasures.  Honestly, though, it is a bit dangerous to let me enter the doors....after all the place is filled with BOOKS.   I know there are other things there like movies, music, video games, and such, but the books are what captivate me.  I listen to all the predictions about how soon there will be no more brick and mortar bookstores.  I will put black crepe paper all over my house and lawn when that day comes.  (Ask my family...I have done that before, a long time ago, over something completely unrelated.)  I really don't mind browsing books online, but I thoroughly delight touching books in person whether at the bookstore or the library or the piles on my bedroom floor. There is so much more to discover skimming a book and getting a feel for it instead of reading another person's review.  Which, by the way, here I am reviewing another book.....

My favorite times at Hastings are during the 5 for $25 used book sale.  On one of those days, I found Thomas C. Foster's How to Read Literature Like a Professor for Kids.  I didn't know at the time that he had written an adult book titled the same, only of course without the "for Kids" part.  It was such a fun and interesting read, I did what I usually do and assigned it to "the kids" to read.  (Yes, you can hear them groaning I am sure.)  Then I requested the adult version of the book from the library for me to read.  

How To Read Literature Like a Professor,  especially "for Kids" is a quick introduction into how to discover all those "themes" and literary techniques that I (loathed) was supposed to learn in literature class in high school. Thomas Foster puts it into a readable, engaging style and tells  it in less time than it took for the bell to ring in 11th grade.  In my defense, that year was the year we had to do "author reports" and I got assigned Henry David Thoreau.  Really?  I have to read about some guy who made pencils for a living and went off into the woods so that like a million years later I would have to read endless pages of his describing how an ant walked around on the ground?  Yeah....how can anyone make a report about him interesting?  I had way better things to do, I reasoned in my 16 year old mind, including play field hockey and skip classes for a pizza break.  

So finding a guy who can make all those quests, symbols, and appearances of vampires meaningful is a treasure in my mind.  I want the kids to learn to recognize the nuances of literature without having holes bored into their skulls and a learning vitamin inserted.  Foster does a good job of revealing things to be looking for.  It is like having a professor in your pocket if you want to understand what you were supposed to be learning in literature class but found as dull as toast without jam.

The only thing disappointing to me was that when Foster declares "There's only one story", he cannot explain what that story is or its meaning or where it came from.  Christianity can answer that and it is so satisfying:  there is one story...it is THE STORY and it is the GREAT STORY and all really great, wonderful, satisfying, beautiful, agonizing, creative, scary, epic stories that we return to again and again are the ones that reflect something from the GREAT STORY.   So drop a professor in your pocket that you actually like and learn something from and use it to teach your children to consider literature's themes.  Then do something more and teach them to recognize and redeem story for the glory of God.    

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