10 Essential Literary Theory and Criticism Books

Literary theory and criticism are steadily evolving disciplines devoted to the interpretation of literary works. Literary theory examines a text in light of specific perspectives or set of principles. There are many literary theories, that is, frameworks, to address and analyze a given text. These theories can range from Marxist to Psychoanalytic to Structuralist to Feminist and beyond. Queer theory, a recent addition to the field, looks at literature through the prism of gay issues and identity.

Traditional literary criticism is the evaluation of a specific book or group of books that seeks to judge works within a number of accepted lines of inquiry, such as influences, the author’s cannon, historical context, textual allusions, writing style and voice, and use of literary devices.

In the age of modern literary studies, literary theory can, in a sense, dictate or inform literary criticism, delivering new frameworks through which to analyze and interpret a book.

The books listed below are some of the leading overviews of this fascinating branch of critical theory.

by Vincent B. Leitch (Editor). W.W. Norton & Company. This volume presents a comprehensive collection of literary theory and criticism, starting with the classical rhetoric of Plato and Aristotle. The 30-page introduction provides a helpful overview to the history of literary schools and movements, but you'll also find headnotes, bibliographies, and annotations.
by Julie Rivkin (Editor), and Michael Ryan (Editor). Blackwell Pub. Rivkin and Ryan breaks the book up into 10 categories: "Formalisms," "Structuralism and Linguistics," "Psychoanalysis," "Marxism," "Feminism," "Historicisms," and more.
by Wilfred L. Guerin, Earle G. Labor, Lee Morgan, Jeanne C. Reesman, and John Willingham. Oxford University Press. This book explains how to interpret literature, using critical approaches. In the first chapter, the writers say, "Whatever the reason, many students not innately hostile to literature may well have come to despise it..."
by Peter Barry. Manchester University Press. This book offers explanations of 11 types of theoretical thoughts, with examples and study questions. You'll also find a reading list for further study.
by Terry Eagleton. University of Minnesota Press. This work is "designed to cover all of the major movements in literary studies," according to the cover of this book.

by Lois Tyson. Garland Publishing. Tyson offers an introduction to feminism, psychoanalysis, Marxism, reader-response theory, and much more. The author also provides interpretation of "The Great Gatsby," utilizing the various theoretical tenets.

by Michael Ryan. Blackwell Pub. The back cover says, "The book is ideal for use in introductory courses on literary theory and criticism. It contains accessible accounts of each theoretical approach, and it demonstrates how the same classic texts can be read differently from different theoretical perspectives."
by David H. Richter. St. Martin's Press. Chapters include: "Why We Read," What We Have Loved, Others Will Love," "Disliking Books at an Early Age," "The Rise of English," "Teaching Culture," "The Death of the Author," "The Literary Imagination," and more.
by Deborah Appleman. Teachers College Press. This book offers approaches to teaching literary theory in the high school classroom. Appleman writes, "We live in dangerous and complicated times and no one is more aware of it than our teenagers... How do we help them negotiate these treacherous times?"
This volume collects 58 essays from various feminist critical perspectives, including chapters: "Women and Madness: The Critical Phallacy," "Infection in the Sentence," "A Mindless Man-driven Theory Machine," "Confinements," "What Has Never Been," "Dancing Through the Minefield," and many more.
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Lombardi, Esther. "10 Essential Literary Theory and Criticism Books." ThoughtCo, Jun. 25, 2015, thoughtco.com/essential-literary-theory-and-criticism-books-740537. Lombardi, Esther. (2015, June 25). 10 Essential Literary Theory and Criticism Books. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/essential-literary-theory-and-criticism-books-740537 Lombardi, Esther. "10 Essential Literary Theory and Criticism Books." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/essential-literary-theory-and-criticism-books-740537 (accessed January 22, 2018).