Foster begins by noting that authors have control over their books while they are writing them, but as soon as a book is published it’s a different story. It’s impossible to predict how a piece of literature will be received and interpreted by readers; for example, books such as Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) were poorly regarded when they were first published, even though they are now considered masterpieces of English literature.
The notion that literature has a “life of its own” is one of the most important concepts in the book. Rather than being attached to what the author intended or what other people think, readers should use “deep reading” techniques to create their own interpretation. As the examples of “Moby Dick” and “The Great Gatsby” show, other people can be wrong!
Foster expresses gratitude for the nontraditional students he has taught at the University of Michigan-Flint, who have been instrumental in the writing and revising of How to Read Literature Like a Professor. These students—many of them adult learners—prove that the best thing for a professor to do (once he or she has properly explained different reading techniques) is “stand aside” and allow students to analyze texts for themselves.
Here Foster contextualizes the book and gives a sense of the audience for whom it was written. Literary analysis might have a reputation for being elitist and inaccessible, but Foster aims to counter this by making “reading like a professor” possible for anyone.
Foster moves on to thank the high school English teachers who assign How to Read Literature Like a Professor to their students. The inventive teaching methods of these teachers and the positive feedback they report about the book helps to show that young people’s engagement with literature is alive and well. Foster lists contemporary authors who similarly prove that, contrary to what some people believe, reading is not dead. He argues that “literature does not die… it expands.” Finally, Foster expresses thanks to the students who show enthusiasm about the book and the study of literature.
Foster emphasizes that the practice of reading can be just as creative and important as writing. His words create the impression of a global community of readers—including scholars, students, and teachers—who together ensure that literature will never “die.” Furthermore, Foster indicates that the contributions of students and “beginner readers” to this community are just as valuable as those of authors and professors.