This is a great guide for all of us who love to read but whose education was at the other end of the campus. His style is informal, chatty and humorous -- now that he has the cautiously curious in his room, he doesn't want to scare us off with concepts that seem dry or irrelevant. He wants to show us how to apply these ideas so that our deeper understanding of the book will take our enjoyment of it to a new plane. "Reading literature is a highly intellectual activity, but it also involves affect and instinct to a large degree. Much of what we think about literature, we feel first. Having instincts, though, doesn’t automatically mean they work at their highest level. Dogs are instinctual swimmers, but not every pup hits the water understanding what to do with that instinct. Reading is like that, too. The more you exercise the symbolic imagination, the better and quicker it works."
He illustrates his ideas with numerous works of different types, and doesn't restrict them to the classics. Popular modern books (eg Inspector Banks) are as easily discussed as the traditional classics and are mixed in with occasional movies too.
"... when writers send characters south, it’s so they can run amok....Conrad’s visionaries, Lawrence’s searchers, Hemingway’s hunters, Kerouac’s hipsters, Paul Bowles’s down-and-outers and seekers, Forster’s tourists, Durrell’s libertines—all head south, in more senses than one".
For instance, vampires and other monsters are explained in terms of "...exploitation in its many forms. Using other people to get what we want. Denying someone else’s right to live in the face of our overwhelming demands. Placing our desires, particularly our uglier ones, above the needs of another." The vampire/monster thinks, ' In order to remain undead, I must steal the life force of someone whose fate matters less to me than my own.' Foster says, "I’ve always supposed that Wall Street traders utter essentially the same sentence. My guess is that as long as people act toward their fellows in exploitative and selfish ways, the vampire will be with us."
You can't go wrong with someone who can so easily link vampires with Wall Street.