I spent some time this summer reading Eagleton, beginning with After Theory. This was a long time after his Literary Theory: An Introduction, which was a must-read back when I was in college. Yet, other than this one must-read, I really didn't read any of his books, which, I was surprised to find out, now total over 30 titles. Solely on the basis of Literary Theory, Eagleton didn't seem a particularly witty writer to me, so I was delighted and intrigued by his way of making light of heavy topics with humor. With this discovery on hand, if you go back to his early books, heavy-handed seriousness toward a subject was indeed rarely his way from the beginning. There are many passages in Literary Theory (or Against the Grain, and other early titles) where his deeply ironical stance toward the topics obviously of great importance to him, or at times surprisingly savage wit, makes you laugh.
Quite a few reviews in this book have hilarious one-liners or otherwise laughter-provoking comments. One of my favorite is one written for Harold Bloom and his How to Read and Why. Bloom is a "figure of dissent" in his way, who, according to Eagleton, was "once an interesting critic" when he came up with a theory of literature as an oedipal drama, and then much later, after his "critical wheel has come full circle," began distancing himself from the US academia by "preaching the unversal humanity in a New York accent." Eagleton's concluding comment, that "if there is Bloom the self-therapist, there is also Bloom the American TV evangelist, full of windy moralistic rhetoric about how to 'aprehend and recognize the possibility of the good, help it to endure, give it space in your life'," is so very correct.
Laughter aside, the book contains a lot to learn from. To me, this can be a field manual to book reviewers, and those who want to be good readers. In some reviews, for example the one done on Rolf Wiggershaus' The Frankfurt School, Eagleton seems to spend almost the whole of the space in discussing what *he* thinks and knows about the subject the reviewed book deals with, giving the book in question a space of just a paragraph or two toward the very end. In the end, such an approach is always a well-taken one, since it gives the book a more precise location in not only the cultural/intellectual climate where it appeared but also the personal context where it's read and appreciated.