This was a good book. In a lot of ways, I think it’s very important for people looking to study more about literature, to read it more in-depth, to understand some of those “hidden gems” authors slip into their works.
But it didn’t really work for me personally. As an author myself, part of my purpose was to examine just how people read books (especially those who read books for a living). In my own writing, I often hide inside jokes and subtle references–frequently in ways that I think would never, ever be noticed. After reading this book, I am reminded: (1) the average person probably won’t notice them, because even if they’ve read this book, there’s no guarantee they’ve studied the same academic fields I have and have the background I have, but also (2) I’m probably not nearly as subtle as I think I am. But for my purposes, this book didn’t do quite as much as I hoped it would.
The merits of this book, in large part, stand on their own. Mr. Foster covers a wide range of topics (by no means all of them, which he readily admits), and his approach is accessible for nearly everyone. He does not take a critical, deconstructionist method, which I appreciate (as an author), nor does he force texts to stand in a modern context that isn’t appropriate, which I also appreciate (as a classicist).
So if you’ve never done much reading of literature and you want to get into it, this book will definitely help you do that. On the other hand, if you have read a lot of literature, this may seem a bit old hat. At the very least, though, reading this can help you enumerate and describe the details that you’re catching; it takes your subconscious understanding of a work’s complexity and makes it conscious, so that you can talk (or write) about it more readily. And that’s good, too.