How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster #3

"One of our great storytellers, country singer Willie Nelson, was sitting around one day just noodling on the guitar, improvising melodies he’d never written down, never heard in quite those forms. His companion, a nonmusician whose name I forget, asked him how he could come up with all those tunes. “They’re all around us,” old Willie said. “You just reach up and pick them out of the air.” Stories are like that, too."

Stories really are like that. You just make them up as you see fit. The trick is getting paid for them.

How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster #2

"When one of their number is killed by a sniper, they order the destruction of the nearby village, then sit on a hill and watch as shell after shell, alternating high explosives and incendiary white phosphorus, pulverize the village. A cockroach couldn’t survive. Why do they do it? It isn’t a military target, only a village. Did the bullet come from the village? Not exactly, although the shooter was either a VC villager or a soldier sheltered by the village. Is he still there? No, the place is deserted when they look for revenge. You could make the claim that they go after the community of people who housed the enemy, and certainly there’s an element of that. But the real target is the physical village—as place, as center of mystery and threat, as alien environment, as generic home of potential enemies and uncertain friends. The squad pours its fear and anger at the land into this one small, representative piece of it: if they can’t overcome the larger geography, they can at least express their rage against the smaller."

This came from the chapter about geography and how it is significant in literature.

It's an intriguing passage and I wonder how true it is.

Merry Christmas

How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster #1

"What we mean in speaking of “myth” in general is story, the ability of story to explain ourselves to ourselves in ways that physics, philosophy, mathematics, chemistry—all very highly useful and informative in their own right—can’t."

Myths are fascinating, at least when taken as a whole. Myths from an individual culture can be intriguing, entertaining and informative. But when the whole of mythology is taken into consideration it reveals so much about humanity and what we have in common.

The idea that so many cultures have so many mythical elements in common is incredible.

When I was in college I took a class about Mythology. There was something else attached to it "comparative" or "literature" or something. I can't remember what it was but the point is, this was my first formal study in mythology.

It was illuminating. In the first class the professor passed a sheet of paper around the class asking us to write our names and the religion we are most familiar with.

Nearly half of those who had the paper before me wrote buddhism. I was surprised. I'd graduated high school only going to Adventist schools and mostly been surrounded by Christians.

Later in the class the professor was talking about how religions are considered part of mythology. She addressed how contentious this can be and later said, "You have your religion and everyone else has their myths." The struck me as rather accurate.

It was startling to be in a classroom where Christianity was put on the same playing field as all other religions of today and the past. There wasn't any condemnation of one religion or the other, they were all treated as equally neutral and we picked them apart (as much as can be done in a once a week class) for their similarities across culture and era and for common elements.

It was fun. I got over any uncomfortableness pretty quickly.

Now I'm more curious about why so many religions and cultures have so many stories with such similar elements. Floods, virgin births, death and resurrection.

Could there only be one set of original stories and everything else is a constant retelling of those? What a cool book that would be.

Saul Bellow: Letters #none

My first Kindle broke and is beyond repair and what was on it is beyond recovery.

This is sad because I lost around 30 highlights from the collected letters of Saul Bellow.

This was the first book of letters I've finished. I started the letters of Tolkien once but didn't get very far.

After finishing this book I'm curious about reading more. It's like reading a secret auto-biography and has a very real sense of spying.

I was literally reading letters that were never intended to be seen by anyone other than the recipient. They were not for me.

It's a fascinating way to learn about another individual.

Dear Journal,

You're not so private anymore are you.

This is the most common memorie I have of journaling.

Random movies where someone screams about someone else reading their diary. Does that happen anymore these days? OMG YOU READ MY BLOG!

This is such a '90s post.

Anyway. I was struck by the difference between keeping a live action journal and an online one. It really is an interesting phenomenon.

Other memories of journals? Starting them and filling in two or three pages and then never writing in them again.

And most of the things I wrote were, "I'm going to write more often..."

I feel like I should wrap this whole thing up with a point.


Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow #15

I always adored sparrows. I do to this day. I spend hours in the park watching them bob and hop around and take dust baths.

Animals make me happy.

Once, I was at the zoo with some friends and we were looking at baby tigers. I could have stayed there all day and been at peace.

Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow #14

“When you get to the story, let me know. I’m not big on philosophy.”

This is why I have so much trouble reading non-fiction. There's no story and it's hard to visualize.

I can handle a few, if it's narrative.

But when the author is talking about thoughts and abstract ideas my mind tends to drift. Not because I'm not interested in what's being written about, but because my mind needs pictures.

I also have trouble with fiction that is so draped in symbolism that the story gets muddled.

Dan Brown for the win!

Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow #13

"And I wasn’t, after all, doing much with this precious freedom. I was assuming that I had world enough and time to do something with it later."

This made me feel guilty for doing anything other than exploring all of the world's nooks and crannies.

I hate procrastination.

Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow #12

I had seen her one morning before she was made up, hurrying toward the bathroom, completely featureless, a limp and yellow banana skin, without brows or lashes and virtually without lips. The sorrow of this sight took me by the heart,

I hate it when I see pretty girls who wear make-up and then I see them without make-up and my first reaction is, "Augh!"

There was a girl I used to work with who always wore heavy eye makeup. It wasn't a big deal. Until she came in one day with none on and she looked sick. Turns out she barely had eyelashes and her eyebrows were so pale normally you could barely see them.

The truth is, she was still very, very pretty. But the change was so drastic it was startling. It made me sad.

I can't make women change how they feel about make up. But I'm always so much happier when I see a girl put on makeup and I go "Wow" than I am when I see a girl without make up and worry about her health.

Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow #11

“What you do,” she said, “is invent relationships with the dead you never had when they were living.

Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead introduces a type of funeral that avoids this. Basically, the Speaker for the Dead is hired to investigate all of the deceased's life and then speak at the funeral and reveal the person for who they truly are. It is painful and honest and one of the best ways to say goodbye.

Somewhere I read that Orson Scott Card hopes someone will "Speak" his funeral. That would be fascinating to see.