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How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines

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What does it mean when a fictional hero takes a journey?. Shares a meal? Gets drenched in a sudden rain shower? Often, there is much more going on in a novel or poem than is readily visible on the surface -- a symbol, maybe, that remains elusive, or an unexpected twist on a character -- and there's that sneaking suspicion that the deeper meaning of a literary text keeps escaping you.

In this practical and amusing guide to literature, Thomas C. Foster shows how easy and ...

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New York, NY 2003 Soft Cover NEW in None as Issued jacket BRAND NEW COPY w/trace edge wear to softcover. Guide to critical enjoyment of literature by considering reading itself ... as a creative act, and, being alert to a certain set of patterns, codes and rules that constitute the grammar of literature fosters a skill. Professor of English and author Thomas C. Foster teaches contemporary fiction, drama, and poetry as well as creative writing and composition. Read more Show Less

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How to Read Literature Like a Professor Revised: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines

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Overview

What does it mean when a fictional hero takes a journey?. Shares a meal? Gets drenched in a sudden rain shower? Often, there is much more going on in a novel or poem than is readily visible on the surface -- a symbol, maybe, that remains elusive, or an unexpected twist on a character -- and there's that sneaking suspicion that the deeper meaning of a literary text keeps escaping you.

In this practical and amusing guide to literature, Thomas C. Foster shows how easy and gratifying it is to unlock those hidden truths, and to discover a world where a road leads to a quest; a shared meal may signify a communion; and rain, whether cleansing or destructive, is never just rain. Ranging from major themes to literary models, narrative devices, and form, How to Read Literature Like a Professor is the perfect companion for making your reading experience more enriching, satisfying, and fun.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In this valuable handbook for English literature students and enthusiasts alike, Foster (English, Univ. of Michigan) shares his love of the subject, encouraging readers to explore multiple meanings when reading literary works rather than be daunted by strict or limiting interpretations. The text is broken down into manageable chapters that focus on literary sources such as the Bible, themes and symbols ranging from vampires to rain, and literary forms (e.g., the sonnet). An amazing breadth of literature is covered, from Greek myths to Shakespeare to modern literature and even contemporary screenplays. Foster's key strength is his ability to tackle such a vast and weighty topic in an informal and conversational manner, making fairly complex literary theories such as intertextuality and Northrop Frye's notion of literary archetypes accessible through clear illustrations. Written in plain English with plenty of humorous anecdotes, this book certainly lives up to its description as "lively and entertaining." A worthy addition to academic and large public libraries.-Rebecca Bollen, North Bergen, NJ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060009427
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/18/2003
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 8.04 (w) x 5.36 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas C. Foster is a professor of English at the University of Michigan-Flint, where he teaches contemporary fiction, drama, and poetry as well as creative writing and composition. He is the author of Twenty-five Books That Shaped America and several books on twentieth-century British and Irish fiction and poetry. He lives in East Lansing, Michigan.

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Read an Excerpt

How to Read Literature Like a Professor
A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines

Chapter One

Every Trip Is a Quest

(Except When It's Not)

Okay, so here's the deal: let's say, purely hypothetically, you're reading a book about an average sixteen-year-old kid in the summer of 1968. The kid—let's call him Kip—who hopes his acne clears up before he gets drafted, is on his way to the A&P. His bike is a one-speed with a coaster brake and therefore deeply humiliating, and riding it to run an errand for his mother makes it even worse. Along the way he has a couple of disturbing experiences, including a minorly unpleasant encounter with a German shepherd, topped off in the supermarket parking lot where he sees the girl of his dreams, Karen, laughing and horsing around in Tony Vauxhall's brand-new Barracuda. Now Kip hates Tony already because he has a name like Vauxhall and not like Smith, which Kip thinks is pretty lame as a name to follow Kip, and because the 'Cuda is bright green and goes approximately the speed of light, and also because Tony has never had to work a day in his life. So Karen, who is laughing and having a great time, turns and sees Kip, who has recently asked her out, and she keeps laughing. (She could stop laughing and it wouldn't matter to us, since we're considering this structurally. In the story we're inventing here, though, she keeps laughing.) Kip goes on into the store to buy the loaf of Wonder Bread that his mother told him to pick up, and as he reaches for the bread, he decides right then and there to lie about his age to the Marine recruiter even though it meansgoing to Vietnam, because nothing will ever happen for him in this one-horse burg where the only thing that matters is how much money your old man has. Either that or Kip has a vision of St. Abillard (any saint will do, but our imaginary author picked a comparatively obscure one), whose face appears on one of the red, yellow, or blue balloons. For our purposes, the nature of the decision doesn't matter any more than whether Karen keeps laughing or which color balloon manifests the saint. What just happened here?

If you were an English professor, and not even a particularly weird English professor, you'd know that you'd just watched a knight have a not very suitable encounter with his nemesis. In other words, a quest just happened.

But it just looked like a trip to the store for some white bread. True. But consider the quest. Of what does it consist? A knight, a dangerous road, a Holy Grail (whatever one of those may be), at least one dragon, one evil knight, one princess. Sound about right? That's a list I can live with: a knight (named Kip), a dangerous road (nasty German shepherds), a Holy Grail (one form of which is a loaf of Wonder Bread), at least one dragon (trust me, a '68 'Cuda could definitely breathe fire), one evil knight (Tony), one princess (who can either keep laughing or stop). Seems like a bit of a stretch.

On the surface, sure. But let's think structurally. The quest consists of five things: (a) a quester, (b) a place to go, (c) a stated reason to go there, (d) challenges and trials en route, and (e) a real reason to go there. Item (a) is easy; a quester is just a person who goes on a quest, whether or not he knows it's a quest. In fact, usually he doesn't know. Items (b) and (c) should be considered together: someone tells our protagonist, our hero, who need not look very heroic, to go somewhere and do something. Go in search of the Holy Grail. Go to the store for bread. Go to Vegas and whack a guy. Tasks of varying nobility, to be sure, but structurally all the same. Go there, do that. Note that I said the stated reason for the quest. That's because of item (e).

The real reason for a quest never involves the stated reason. In fact, more often than not, the quester fails at the stated task. So why do they go and why do we care? They go because of the stated task, mistakenly believing that it is their real mis-sion. We know, however, that their quest is educational. They don't know enough about the only subject that really matters: themselves. The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge. That's why questers are so often young, inexperienced, immature, sheltered. Forty-five-year-old men either have self-knowledge or they're never going to get it, while your average sixteen-to-seventeen-year-old kid is likely to have a long way to go in the self-knowledge department.

Let's look at a real example. When I teach the late-twentieth-century novel, I always begin with the greatest quest novel of the last century: Thomas Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49 (1965). Beginning readers can find the novel mystifying, irritating, and highly peculiar. True enough, there is a good bit of cartoonish strangeness in the novel, which can mask the basic quest structure. On the other hand, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (late fourteenth century) and Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen (1596), two of the great quest narratives from early English literature, also have what modern readers must consider cartoonish elements. It's really only a matter of whether we're talking Classics Illustrated or Zap Comics. So here's the setup in The Crying of Lot 49:

1) Our quester: a young woman, not very happy in her marriage or her life, not too old to learn, not too assertive where men are concerned.

2) A place to go: in order to carry out her duties, she must drive to Southern California from her home near San Francisco. Eventually she will travel back and forth between the two, and between her past (a husband with a disintegrating personality and a fondness for LSD, an insane ex-Nazi psychotherapist) and her future (highly unclear).

How to Read Literature Like a Professor
A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines
. Copyright © by Thomas Foster. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 96 )
Rating Distribution

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(35)

4 Star

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(21)

2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 98 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2008

    I liked it

    I don't read much. A book has to really steal my attention away from my cherished vice TV. This book did that. Sometimes it did lag, but I was so keen on getting to his next witty or engaging comment-usually found at the beginning of chapters-I muscled through it. Now I analysis books-and music, poetry, plays, my day-with the tool box he gave me. Caution though, his knowledge and wisdom are so great you often put the book down feeling small. It's good and I liked it.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Great Companion For Those Who Want To Get More From Their Reading

    Thomas C. Foster writes an excellent compliment to any one's library who reads a lot. He describes looking past the words and looking into what the author is really trying to say. You almost feel like you are back in high school, or college when he asks you to read a snippet of something, then asking "what does that mean?"

    If you ever wanted to really understand what it means when an author mentions water, falling in mud, flying, eating with others, etc and other literary symbols, then this is an excellent book to read. Some of the chapters seem to go on and on, but he keeps reaffirming each symbol (which is arranged to be each chapter) to the reader and offering examples found in many literary works. He also lets you know that the symbols in his book are 1) not always what he says they are and 2) the symbols in the book aren't the definite complete list. There are many other symbols, like fire, he doesn't cover; but he wants to give you the basics for reading something, stepping back, and catching what the real meaning to the text is.

    I recommend this to anyone that would like to get more out of their reading experience, and those who have, or run a book club. I enjoyed it.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 12, 2009

    the new rosetta stone of literature

    Seldom in literature is anyone willing to address the intricate nature of the written words meaning. In the case of Thomas Foster's book "How To Read Literature Like A Professor' all barriers have been shattered. If you are a writer or aspire to be one you will profit from the definitive way Mr Foster peels back the layers of storytelling. Like removing the leaves of an artichoke we are brought deeper and closer to the core dipping each leaf in the butter, relishing the new flavor of his knowledge. and all at once we find the heart of the delicacy and he gives us a taste of wisdom far beyond our expectations. All in all this book becomes one of those "awww moments" and leaves us wiser and with a greater understanding of our species cultural intercourse in literature.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2009

    Good required reading book, bad free-reading book.

    I was assigned this book for school reading and it's great for that purpose. The author informs you on different literary techniques authors use in a comprehensive and interesting way. However, the content may be too dry for casual readers who are not required to read this book.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 16, 2012

    How to Read Literature like a Professor is a great book for lea

    How to Read Literature like a Professor is a great book for learning
    parts of a story inside and out. By learning about how why and for what
    reason different books were written, anyone will be able to understand
    the complex workings of an authors mind. The author, Tom Foster, has an
    interesting and sarcastic type of writing that is sure to draw in
    anyone’s focus on a subject. As an English Professor himself, though
    somewhat a comedian, Foster is constantly making jokes on other authors’
    works and how he and his own class view them. He takes what can be seen
    as a dull subject and turns it into something much more enjoyable. This
    book is for students or adults that want to take their reading further
    in order to fully understand the history and structure of most stories,
    novels or poems. How to Read Literature like a Professor gives great
    knowledge and tips on not only reading literature, but also on fully
    embracing the text and understanding hidden symbols. From learning about
    Shakespeare to iambic pentameters, this book can transform anyone into a
    Literature Professor. The full title, How to Read Literature Like a
    Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines,
    is obviously a perfect indication of what the book contains. The cover
    picture however, was less than a perfect match in my opinion. In order
    to draw in people’s attention, I believe a more interesting picture
    should be in place of the text and magnified glass. However, the text
    and pages were very simple to read. Tom Foster has a very profound
    personality in his writing. He’s very witty and makes many jokes that
    relate to everyday life in whichever book he’s analyzing, but not
    overwhelming to the point of being annoying. While he teaches, he gives
    out a theme of ‘easy learning’. Foster writes well enough to maintain a
    steady tempo that’s very easy to follow. At this speed, he teaches with
    ease and examples that people experience daily, instead of naming off
    facts and details left for the reader to memorize. With this type of
    playful writing style, anyone and everyone is bound to learn something.
    The book itself stands alone to many English study course textbooks;
    Foster puts questions and details from students in his actual class- and
    answers them. Many points that stood out to me were the details
    describing the symbolism of rain, snow and eating together. This book
    teaches many things, but the most important is to be imaginative, even
    in reading. As the author, Tom Foster, quotes “We have to bring our
    imaginations to bear on a story if we are to see all it's possibilities;
    otherwise it's just about somebody who did something… we discover
    because our imagination engages with that of the author. Pretty amazing
    when you consider that the author may have been dead for thousands of
    years, yet we can still have this exchange, this dialogue, with her.”
    How to Read Literature Like a Professor was a very informational book. I
    believe it may have even taught me more things than a literature
    textbook with literally hundreds of more pages. I loved learning about
    the many different uses of symbolism, and I will now always read
    differently. Though this was a great book to study and learn from, I
    wouldn’t recommend this book for normal reading or to bring to the
    beach. However, this one of the most non difficult books I’ve read while
    actually learning and laughing at the same time.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Flashback to College

    As an English major, I found this book to be a delightful read and flashback to the hours I spent in class dissecting the symbolism in movies and books that were assigned viewing and reading for class.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    I was reading the book and it had a way of taking my attention a

    I was reading the book and it had a way of taking my attention away from what I was doing to what I needed to do. This book is one-of-a-kind. It carries knowledge in such a way that most people wouldn't see it in. It even helps you memorize what you need to learn too. I recommend you to buy this book if you do want to learn, but cant seem to get into books because this one WILL get your attention and you will be hooked up to the information given. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 16, 2012

    I never knew somebody could break down literature and give impor

    I never knew somebody could break down literature and give important key
    facts that many people ever knew about like Thomas C. Foster, a
    professor of English at the University of Michigan at Flint. His book,
    “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” was a New York Times
    Bestseller in 2003. This book is for people who are interested in
    learning about literature and understanding what is being read. The book
    encourages readers to test their knowledge on anything they read. The
    title is called “How to Read Literature Like a Professor.” Really, all
    professors do not know how to read literature. But it also says "A
    Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines." So
    that let me know what I was about to read. The title matched the concept
    of the book and I like it. One of the most things I like about the book
    was the cover. It has a magnifying glass looking into the book
    “Huckleberry Finn” with the title in the middle. The unique thing about
    it was that when I rubbed my hand across the book, I notice that the
    magnifying glass had a silk like material and rest felt like paper. I
    thought that was very interesting and made me want to read the book even
    more. There were no characters in the story; it was just Thomas C.
    Foster giving his point of view on different subjects. He explains what
    literature is, what it means to us, and how we can understand it. I
    learned many things through reading the book. I learned about symbols
    and what they mean in different stories. Like rain, snow, and thunder
    symbolize something other than just weather. The book makes the reader
    focus on motifs, themes, and many more aspects after being read. I found
    out many things that I did not know about books I have read in the past.
    There were many examples in the book so that I could understand what was
    being taught and what I was reading. It includes a list of famous
    novels, poems, and plays. He shows how to read between the lines and
    understand what is being read. The book was very interesting to me. To
    me, it’s a source to learn more about literature than I never had known.
    Thomas C. Foster is a brilliant man and has great knowledge in teaching
    others. I have knowledge about everything I read now. When I read
    novels, poems, and plays, I break down each important sentence and find
    the true meaning about them. I would recommend this book to anybody and
    people who want learn more about literature.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 10, 2011

    So, sure! Defenitely worth your time, though maybe not vice versa

    So i found it very satisfying, though i am a big fan of reading and am able to appreciate analysies. It does require some patience but it is certainly helpful, especially to less well read individuals.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 4, 2011

    Glad I bought both books

    I enjoyed his "How to Read Novels Like a Professor" and debated getting this one as well for a long time, worried about crossover material and not as much unique information. However, it is well worth having both books, this one goes more into symbolism while the other book covers more of form.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2013

    Enlightening

    After reading this book, go back and reread your favorite book. You'll see it in a subtly different light.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2013

    I was required to read this book for school, but I actually foun

    I was required to read this book for school, but I actually found it pretty interesting and would really recommend this book to anybody going into a 9th or 10th grade high achiever english class because it'll give you a lot of insight already to what you're going to learn.  I was required to read this before my senior year and wish that i'd have picked it up a little bit earlier, it's like an english student's bible.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2013

    WOW... I love MyDeals247 model - they create competition among t

    WOW... I love MyDeals247 model - they create competition among the sellers real-time.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2012

    perfect

    the book arrived in a timely fashion and was in great condition.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2012

    not the best service

    the book was never delivered

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 17, 2012

    ¿How to Read Literature like a professor¿, by Thomas C. Foster,

    “How to Read Literature like a professor”, by Thomas C. Foster, is a new
    york times bestseller. This nonfiction book gives readers a brand new
    and more clear perspective on reading and actually comprehending a
    novel. this book, written mostly for high school, or college students is
    a great way for people who are unable to analyze the underlying meanings
    in certain novels. This novel was written in a way that is easy for even
    the most novice of readers. The way Foster uses his comparisons between
    to completely seemingly irrelevant topics and somehow ties them together
    is brilliant. Most authors witting book like this would not us lists to
    further prove their point. The way Foster uses lists throughout the
    novel makes understanding the book so much easier to understand. Foster
    does a great job of getting the point of the theme of each story in this
    book. He claims that many stories usually relate to either the bible,
    greek mythology, or famous historical events.

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  • Posted August 17, 2012

    Thomas C. Foster wrote this New York Times bestseller. It is non

    Thomas C. Foster wrote this New York Times bestseller. It is nonfiction
    and a very educational book, which teaches the readers about literature.
    This is geared toward students, high school or college who are not
    experts on reading literature. It gives guidelines and main ideas on how
    to read and actually understand what is inside. The title “How to Read
    Literature like a Professor,” fits this book perfectly, only because
    that is exactly what the purpose is. The cover may not be as eye
    catching as other but if you are searching for a book on how to read
    literature then obviously cover art is not what interests you. Due to
    the fact that this is an educational book, the only character is the
    writer himself. Foster however captivates the reader’s attention with
    his sarcasm and view on literature. Throughout this novel Foster wrote
    about many different main ideas to give you a better understanding of
    reading, some include how every story is a quest, or involving the
    Bible, or maybe a fairytale. Foster made understanding literature easier
    since he did not use vocabulary that was hard to grasp or concepts. He
    made the point that “there is no such thing as a wholly original work.”
    In my opinion, “How to Read Literature like a Professor” is a very
    informative novel. Even though English is not my favorite subject this
    book gave me a better understanding of reading literature. This book was
    slow at some points but was not hard to read or understand. If you are
    looking for a good book to help you understand then this is the book to
    choose.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2012

    Hunter Kirksey Mrs. Hornbuckle English 12 16 august 2012 Boo

    Hunter Kirksey Mrs. Hornbuckle English 12 16 august 2012 Book Review
    How to read literature like a professor was written by Thomas C. Foster.
    He is an English teacher at the University of Michigan at Flint. He has
    written several books and they are mostly written on 20th century Hunter
    kirksey British and Irish fiction and poetry. However; this book, how to
    Read Literature like a Professor, is an educational and non-fiction
    book. Fosters intended audience is college students. The book was given
    its title because it teaches students how to comprehend what they’re
    reading and how to read between the lines. Also, it’s a good book
    because it lets you know exactly what you are reading. The cover of the
    book is also decorated well and catches the eye of readers. The
    narrator of this book used a lot of humor. Throughout the book he used
    sarcasm and was funny and made the book more enjoyable to read. The book
    in my opinion had two themes; how to comprehend what you are reading and
    how to read between the lines. The key idea of the book is to make a
    point that understanding what you are reading is important. A notable
    quote from the book is “The real reason for a quest is always self
    knowledge”. (pg.3) I personally did not like reading this book. I just
    do not enjoy reading, however; I would recommend this book for other
    people to read. The book is very meaningful and gives a lot of good
    advice. Also it could be very helpful to anyone needing advice on
    reading comprehension.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2012

    Eye Opening

    This book made an average reader understand how to analyze certian and often ordinary situations

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2012

    Not a big fan.

    This book was boring to me. I had very few moments of 'ah-has' which is suprising considering how much and often I read books. I expected to see examples of what was explained and so far havent seen too many examples in my reading. Overall, it was OK but just not worth it much to me.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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