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How to Read and Why [Paperback]

Harold Bloom
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 2 2001
Information is endlessly available to us; where shall wisdom be found?" is the crucial question with which renowned literary critic Harold Bloom begins this impassioned book on the pleasures and benefits of reading well. For more than forty years, Bloom has transformed college students into lifelong readers with his unrivaled love for literature. Now, at a time when faster and easier electronic media threatens to eclipse the practice of reading, Bloom draws on his experience as critic, teacher, and prolific reader to plumb the great books for their sustaining wisdom.
Shedding all polemic, Bloom addresses the solitary reader, who, he urges, should read for the purest of all reasons: to discover and augment the self. His ultimate faith in the restorative power of literature resonates on every page of this infinitely rewarding and important book.

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How to Read and Why + Shakespeare:Invention of the Human + The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages
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Harold Bloom's urgency in How to Read and Why may have much to do with his age. He brackets his combative, inspiring manual with the news that he is nearing 70 and hasn't time for the mediocre. (One doubts that he ever did.) Nor will he countenance such fashionable notions as the death of the author or abide "the vagaries of our current counter-Puritanism" let alone "ideological cheerleading." Successively exploring the short story, poetry, the novel, and drama, Bloom illuminates both the how and why of his title and points us in all the right directions: toward the Romantics because they "startle us out of our sleep-of-death into a more capacious sense of life"; toward Austen, James, Proust; toward Thomas Mann, Toni Morrison, and Cormac McCarthy; toward Cervantes and Shakespeare (but of course!), Ibsen and Oscar Wilde.

How should we read? Slowly, with love, openness, and with our inner ear cocked. Then we should reread, reread, reread, and do so aloud as often as possible. "As a boy of eight," he tells us, "I would walk about chanting Housman's and William Blake's lyrics to myself, and I still do, less frequently yet with undiminished fervor." And why should we engage in this apparently solitary activity? To increase our wit and imagination, our sense of intimacy--in short, our entire consciousness--and also to heal our pain. "Until you become yourself," Bloom avers, "what benefit can you be to others." So much for reading as an escape from the self!

Still, many of this volume's pleasures may indeed be selfish. The author is at his best when he is thinking aloud and anew, and his material offers him--and therefore us--endless opportunities for discovery. Bloom cherishes poetry because it is "a prophetic mode" and fiction for its wisdom. Intriguingly, he fears more for the fate of the latter: "Novels require more readers than poems do, a statement so odd that it puzzles me, even as I agree with it." We must, he adjures, crusade against its possible extinction and read novels "in the coming years of the third millennium, as they were read in the eighteenth and nineteenth century: for aesthetic pleasure and for spiritual insight."

Bloom is never heavy, since his vision quest contains a healthy love of irony--Jedediah Purdy, take note: "Strip irony away from reading, and it loses at once all discipline and all surprise." And this supreme critic makes us want to equal his reading prowess because he writes as well as he reads; his epigrams are equal to his opinions. He is also a master allusionist and quoter. His section on Hedda Gabler is preceded by three extraordinary statements, two from Ibsen, who insists, "There must be a troll in what I write." Who would not want to proceed? Of course, Bloom can also accomplish his goal by sheer obstinacy. As far as he is concerned, Don Quixote may have been the first novel but it remains to this day the best one. Is he perhaps tweaking us into reading this gigantic masterwork by such bald overstatement? Bloom knows full well that a prophet should stop at nothing to get his belief and love across, and throughout How to Read and Why he is as unstinting as the visionary company he adores. --Kerry Fried --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This aesthetic self-help manual is a reliably idiosyncratic guide to what Yale literary critic Bloom calls "the most healing of pleasures"A reading well. In chapters that focus on short stories, poems, novels and plays, Bloom takes readers on a swift but satisfying joyride through the West's most outrageous, original and exuberant textsAclassics by Chekhov, Flannery O'Connor, Borges, Dickinson, Proust, Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison, among others. Unconventionally organized by literary genre, his text is passionately anecdotal and observant. By asking great questionsA"Why does Lady Bracknell delight us so much?"; "How does one read a short story?"ABloom hopes to influence our reading lists and habits. He gives some texts, such as Moby-Dick, almost cursory treatment; others he discusses at length. Fans of his bestselling Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (1998) will find the lengthy discussion of Hamlet here to be a kind of coda. Overall, this book is a testament to Bloom's view that reading is above all a pleasurably therapeutic event. "Imaginative literature is otherness, and as such alleviates loneliness," he notes, reminding us of what's inexhaustible about writers such as Whitman and Borges and attesting to the satisfaction that literary texts offer our solitary selves. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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First Sentence
The Irish writer Frank O'Connor celebrated the short story in his Lonely Voice, believing that it dealt best with isolated individuals, particularly those upon society's fringes. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worshiping at the Altar of Shakespeare Oct. 30 2003
Format:Unknown Binding
'Worshiping at the Altar of Shakespeare' would be a more appropriate title for Professor Bloom's book. Or possibly, 'WHAT to Read and Why.' As it stands, 'How to Read and Why' is excruciatingly inappropriate for what Bloom sets forth.
Bloom asserts in his preface that his book teaches HOW to read and why. The word "how" presupposes that the reader requires instruction in beginning to read, in this case, some of the Western world's greatest literature. Anyone who is new to great literature certainly needs help in how to read it. Such a reader requires assistance in literary devices, content, historical significance, cultural influences, etc. inherent in the works. That type of foundation will help teach you HOW to read. Bloom gives no such help. Rather, he tells you WHAT to read, and why it should be read. (He also assumes that the reader comes to the table with an already vast knowledge of literature and "how" to read it.)
Even if Bloom changed his title to 'What to Read and Why,' he might as well call it, 'Shakespeare is All You Need,' or 'How to Read Shakespeare into All the Great Masterpieces of World Literature.' Sure, Shakespeare was profoundly influential (and continues to be) in the realm of literature, no one would deny that. But to CONSTANTLY compare every author and every piece of writing to Shakespeare is like telling a child, "That's good, Johnny, but you'll never be as good as your big brother, you know that, don't you?" Even Shakespeare himself would have to grow tired of all the adoration spewed out by Bloom. Enough already.
Don't get me wrong - Bloom is obviously a genius. Anyone who read (and understood) Blake, Tennyson, and Browning at age eight, knows a thing or two. Bloom gives the reader prime examples of great literature.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sincere Analysis From Harold Bloom May 14 2004
By JRU
Format:Paperback
How to Read and Why is a fascinating introduction to the world of adult literature (no, not the erotica but the serious, more mature side of reading). The author, Yale professor Harold Bloom, wrote a book that is revealing and easy to comprehend- a good reference especially for those, like me, without any formal qualification to discuss literature.
His guide to Faulkner is thought-provoking, and his admiration for Melville intriguing. Here he even argued that the author of Moby Dick influenced, in some ways, Toni Morisson's art of writing.
Of course, one should never forget that Bloom is a passionate advocate of Shakespeare, and his article on this god-like English writer is not something one could ignore. For Bloom, Shakespeare is the only possible rival to the bible, in literary power at least.
This is a sincere analysis on how to read and why. A brilliant and outrageous compilation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fun book, but doesn't deliver what it promises. March 27 2004
Format:Paperback
I picked up How to Read and Why from the library and read it in two days; it was a very fun book and made me want to read more. Its biggest problem is that it simply doesn't tell you how to read. It tells you what to read.
You'd be better served simply doing a Google search for the various short stories it covers in chapter 2. They're all good and you can find most of them online. I copied and pasted 5 of them (they're public domain) and printed them out. They're all worth reading.
Basically, How to Read and Why is a fun book, but you might as well just buy the books that are listed in the index. Bloom doesn't add too much to them.
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3.0 out of 5 stars interesting but unsatisfying Oct. 29 2003
Format:Paperback
Much of Bloom's recent--that is, post-The Western Canon--fare has the flavor of being written for the sake simply of publishing another book or for broadcasting his literary affinities. Having some familiarity with Bloom's ideas and passions, I know this not to be the case; there's always something more to his books. Still, How to Read and Why possesses that written-on-the-fly quality, and while Bloom's assembly of diverse and interesting pieces of literature is excellent as always, I ultimately found the book to be unsatisfying.

Aside from some introductory hows and whys, the book never really explains, satisfactorily, how we should read and, more importantly, why. He speaks of reading to re-capturing irony, of reading to accustom ourselves to change (and especially to the final and universal change), of reading because we cannot hope to meet all people. This is all true, of course, and the book might have been more successful had he pursued those threads and others throughout the text. After the introduction, however, Bloom begins his analysis of literature, broken down into sections on short stories, poetry, plays, and novels. The analyses are often interesting, sometimes wrong (just my opinion...for example, his opinions of Flannery O'Connor and Dostoevsky are severely limited here, as they were in Bloom's more recent Genius; in How to Read and Why, both writers receive similar treatment from Bloom, in the form of D.H. Lawrence's admonition, "Trust the tale but not the teller"), but they are his; they show only one "how" of reading; they are not readily generalized.

Yes, literature is enriching and enlightening; it enhances the experience of being alive. The insights it offers are diverse and often debatable. That's all part of reading's allure.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Why read??? Why look at a painting?
Because these things exist and continue existing in our minds, what other justification do you want? They lift up our imaginations and the imaginations of the artists. Read more
Published on July 14 2004 by A. Fondacaro
3.0 out of 5 stars Rewarding, but not essential Bloom
Other reveiwers have pointed out the inaccuracy of the title, and I state my agreement with their judgement. Read more
Published on May 30 2004 by Megan Lambert
5.0 out of 5 stars How to Reread a Book
I love book talk. This is an interesting title for a book. We know Bloom has read a lot of books because he has written so many. Read more
Published on Oct. 24 2003 by Mary E. Sibley
4.0 out of 5 stars More a motivation for reading....
Most bibliophiles will pick up this exegesis from the renowned literary critic, Harold Bloom, simply on the inherent challenge in the title. Read more
Published on Sept. 1 2003 by ilmk
5.0 out of 5 stars For the individual in us
In this poignant and beautiful book, Harold Bloom tries to drive home the lesson that we must read to become individuals. Read more
Published on Aug. 18 2003 by Inna Tysoe
4.0 out of 5 stars thoughtful, provocative, a little arbitrary
Distinguished literary scholar Harold Bloom writes of the joy of reading, which he perceives as a deeper, wider way of understanding, not limited as is our own experience, or our... Read more
Published on July 8 2003 by Karen Sampson Hudson
5.0 out of 5 stars Mainstream Highbrow
Professor Bloom is sometimes pooh-poohed for his support of the Western Canon, but for those not immersed in the humanities, the book is likely to be a signpost to a deeper... Read more
Published on June 5 2003 by James Igoe
3.0 out of 5 stars Wish I Hadn't Bought the Hardcover
This is the last time I buy one of Bloom's new books in hardcover. The slim volume is attractively packaged but it wasn't worth the price. Read more
Published on May 1 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't Be Put Off by Harold Bloom's Style
I can't help but compare Harold Bloom with the late Clifton Fadiman-another prolific reader and reviewer of great literature. Read more
Published on Dec 23 2002 by P. Martin
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