“Memory. Symbol. Pattern. These are the three items that, more than any other, separate the professorial reader from the rest of the crowd. English professors, as a class, are cursed with memory. Whenever I read a new work, I spin the mental Rolodex looking for correspondences and corollaries—”
This quote takes place in the Introduction and expresses one of the central theses of text: the difference between casual reading and reading to explore the deeper meaning comes from the ability to draw on memory, symbol, and pattern. Here, Foster illustrates that one of the main ways he explores the deeper levels of meaning in a piece of literature is to be constantly aware of what references and resonances might be within a text. The image of a mental Rolodex emphasizes that seasoned readers are constantly expanding the references, symbols, and patterns that they recognize and explore in literature. Each time a reader interacts with a text, they add to the tools they have to read in the future. As Foster explores throughout the book, each reader creates their own version of a text when they read, and that personal text is informed by every story they have heard before.
"Professors also read, and think, symbolically. Everything is a symbol of something, it seems, until proven otherwise. We ask, Is this a metaphor? Is that an analogy? What does the thing over there signify?"
This quote takes place in the Introduction, as Foster is describing how a mind obsessed with symbolism reads a piece of literature. Here, he encapsulates the symbolic imagination of the seasoned reader, which treats everything within a text as a possible symbol. This lens allows readers to probe beneath the surface of a book, to assess how seemingly disparate ideas are linked by metaphor or resonance, and to unlock the hidden significance of a text. Without an understanding of symbols, readers may interact with a text on a purely literal level, taking everything in a story at face value. A river is just a place, the rain is just some weather. This point of view misses out on the richer subtext of literature, the subtext that Foster argues is crucial for truly entering the depths of works of literature.
“Part of pattern recognition is talent, but a whole lot of it is practice: if you read enough and give what you read enough thought, you begin to see patterns, archetypes, recurrences.”
This quote takes place in "Chapter 4: Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before" as Foster is exploring the symbol of the connect-the-dot drawing and how when someone practices, they get more and more adept at seeing the underlying pattern in such a drawing. Foster argues that the same is true of reading–the more one reads, experiences repeating patterns, and learns how archetypes manifest, the more adept one becomes at spotting such design in future texts. Though there may be some element of given talent–that some are more adept at spotting the underling picture from the start–Foster assures his readers that anyone can access these configurations by paying attention, asking questions, and reading a lot. When one can spot patterns, not only does the underlying meaning of a text emerge, but the intertextual nature of story is revealed as well. Because each story is in dialogue with the stories that have come before, pattern recognition allows readers to tap into the larger design that defines literature in general.