on July 14, 2004
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. Bloom presumes anyone still cares about imagination.
There was a newspaper article published here just recently that said adults don't read as much as we think. Of course they don't, they don't have time, they don't want to, they don't see the need to. They're too busy making money, going out and drinking, getting divorced, playing golf, etc etc etc. Keep this in mind, and this book becomes more a lament on where inquisitive minds have gone.
on May 30, 2004
Other reveiwers have pointed out the inaccuracy of the title, and I state my agreement with their judgement. However, the book stands well upon the merits it does offer as a casual toned discussion of Bloom's encounters with the works he examines. Because Bloom is widely read, subtle, and grand, his personal insights can function as markers of the depth and profundity literary works can attain, but he puts forth no theory or system designed to make his audience better readers. What we have is a book of encouragement, not instruction. Furthermore, readers of Bloom will find the book repetitive of his later, popular works. Bloom continues his invective against current critical trends (justifiably, I think) and continues his idiosyncratic exaltation of Shakespeare within the context of the Anxiety of Influence. I recommend reading The Western Canon first since this book reads almost like lost chapters of that earlier and very worthwhile book, although some of the material is repeated.
on May 14, 2004
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.
on March 27, 2004
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.
on October 30, 2003
'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. He just doesn't tell you HOW to read them; he tells you WHY.
Another reviewer hit the nail on the head: Take the list of works that Bloom suggests, and read them for yourself. Try to find out something about them: the time they were written, the literary devices they use, the cultural and societal influences, the authors who wrote them. The more you discover, the more you will enjoy and appreciate these masterpieces.
on October 29, 2003
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. But too often Bloom allows his analyses of works to speak for themselves, to show by their simple existence how and why to read. Perhaps this is mildly justifiable, since most folks who pick up a Bloom book are likely bibliophiles themselves. Nevertheless, and even to a bibliophile like myself, the book proved interesting but not entirely enriching.
on October 24, 2003
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. Furthermore, we know he is a book fan, sort of like the customer reviewer except that he has more credentials. The question is would this book make a person excited about reading. Using the word praxis is off-putting, but then Professor Bloom probably does spend most of his time in an academic environment.
The experience of reading Turgenev and Chekhov, masters of the short story, is considered. Bloom holds, appropriately, that Chekhov was the main influence on all short story writers coming after him. Chekhov has the great writer's wisdom. His "The Lady with the Dog" is worldly laconic in its universalism according to Bloom.
Hemingway's short stories surpass his novels. I agree with Bloom that Hemingway achieves tragedy in "The Hills of Kilimanjaro." Short stories may be divided into fantasy and not fantasy. Short story writers refrain from moral judgment.
The portion of the book on reading poetry presents ideas on poetry very clearly. A reader might start with William Savage Landor or A.E. Housman and move through others such as Browning, Tennyson, Wordsworth, (we have all read Wordsworth even if we haven't read him since his influence was so immense), Coleridge, Eliot, Stevens, Lawrence, Hardy. Emily Dickinson, as Shakespeare, seems to be impossible to categorize. Comparing Emily Dickinson to Emily Bronte is apt, it is very revealing of the oddness of each writer.
Milton was a sect of one. He believed that the soul and body died together. PARADISE LOST identifies energy as equal to spirit. Even the presence of others cannot transform reading from a solitary to a social act.
THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN calls to mind German high culture. HAMLET is about theatricality, not revenge. In HEDDA GABLER there is the horror of losing social respectibility. Bloom notes that in the case of an enlightened and fervent young reader, the first experience of love is toward a literary character.
on September 1, 2003
Most bibliophiles will pick up this exegesis from the renowned literary critic, Harold Bloom, simply on the inherent challenge in the title. For those of us who profess as much a desire and self-improving drive through the written word as Bloom does then this book will either confirm our own decisive belief in how to read and the reasons why we do it, or irritatingly deny and confound them. In some respects it can be seen as a marker, an attempt for the avid reader to classify how we should read the great texts and confirm to ourselves that 'yes, we do understand them'. What Bloom, therefore, must hold himself up to, by publishing his theory, is whether his own form of literature accurately describes how the populace should read any great literary work. By the end I found it ended up with an answer to a rather different question.
Without going through the entire text there are three sections that leap out: Short stories, Novels Part I and Poetry.
Bloom opens his critical work with short story specialists. His own work reflects the genre, with short one-two pages discussions on each, their salient work(s) and the contribution to the art form. We move from Turganev and Chekov to Maupassant and Hemingway, touching through Nabokov, Borges and Calvino, all the while relating them back to Bloom's idolised literary figurehead, Shakespeare. Of particular interest is the note on Landolfi, highlighting as it does a great work, inspired by another great author, Gogol, that parodies its inspiration. Indeed, the entire concept of 'Gogol's wife' takes the real and criticizes it with the absurd, yet an oddly perceptive absurd that echoes Ionesco.
In Bloom's section on poetry he is forced to follow the well-trodden path that any literary critic must do with this format: quote large tracts of various poems in order to get his meaning across, in sharp contrast to those sections ion the short story and novel. He does acknowledge this when he realises that each single word in a poem comprises far more imagery and emotion than is worth explaining or describing. Whereas the novel dictates the scene precisely, the poem offers a tantalisingly liminal nudge to the senses that the reader can allow to bloom in their own mind. As such, the section on poetry becomes more a classification of which of the great poets are in each poetical sub-genre. More a reason on why to read these poets, than how to read them. The section itself deals with Dickinson, Coleridge, Blake, Browning, Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth and the inevitable Shakespearian sonnets, amongst many others. The most interesting detail is perhaps on the Ballard of Sir Patrick Spence with its "tragic comedy almost unique in its stoic heroism", the most exhilarating the seventeenth century ballard, 'Tom O'Bedlam'
Bloom's section on the novels (in two parts) opens with Cervantes' 'Don'Quixote' which he professes the greatest of all novels, swiftly moving onto the incomparable Austen who's novels rely so much on society but never a justification for them and Dickens, picking firstly, Emma, then Great Expectations as their benchmarks. There is an interesting comparison between the first and revised versions of James' 'Portrait' which serves to emphasize the growth of the author's vast (as Bloom would have us believe) consciousness.
So, by the end we don't feel that Bloom has given us satisfactory explanation of 'how' to read and 'why', more that his precis of what he considers the greatest of our literary artists suggests why we must read them specifically and (in an even more limited attempt) some pointers as to how to read them. For example, his explanation of Shakespearian vernacular does attempt to satisfy the 'how to read' as it imparts different and more clear meaning to the poetry . By the end, we are left not with an answer to his titular concept, but a rather disparate reason for our 'motives' to read, best given in his summation on poetry:
"Poetry...does...startle us out of our sleep-of-death into a more capricious sense of life. There is no better motive for reading...."
on August 18, 2003
In this poignant and beautiful book, Harold Bloom tries to drive home the lesson that we must read to become individuals. And since the "individual" is a Western invention (and since Harold Bloom is unabashedly in love with Western literature) this book is meant to be a kind of beginner's guide to the truly great books in the Western tradition. This, of course, is a very individualistic guide. Missing from it, for example is one of my favorite English authors, George Orwell whose "Homage to Catalonia" if not "Animal Farm" surely deserved at least a few lines; missing too are the great poets Pushkin, Lermontov, and Byron. Virginia Woolf's name is mentioned a few times; her books, however are not. I could extend this list ad nauseum. But that, of course, is not the point. This is Harold Bloom's list, not mine; and it contains his breath-taking commentaries that follow one another in a kind of unbroken chain that seems to sing or tremble; not mine.
The fast-moving commentaries are almost too much. I could not read this book in one sitting. Reading about another's perception's of Nabokov and Hemingway and Cervantes and Shakespeare and Milton and Faulkner and Ellison and Morrison (to name only a few of the authors mentioned in these 283 pages) in one sitting is, for me, impossible. I had to come up for air rather frequently. I had to think about what I had read; I had to let the words I had heard sink in-for, as Bloom points out, we must listen when we read. But in the end, I found the book well worth the effort.
For this book teaches the patient and attentive reader something few books on literature will: that we should read not out of any ideology, not to better the world but to better ourselves. Or, as Rabbi Tarphon whose Pirke Abot saying Bloom quotes in his conclusion tells us tells us, "It is not necessary for you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it."
Being an individual-thinking for yourself--is hard work. But while we draw breath it is our ethical responsibility to do just that.
on July 8, 2003
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 friendships however diverse they may be Since we are limited in space and time to read, he presents us with his selection of short stories,poems, plays, and novels which merit our careful reading. Along the way, he subtly jabs "political correctness", and its humorless polemic which has warped the literary canon as he sees it. For the most part I agree with him, that many lauded works today are simply not worth the time it takes to read them, however earnest the authors, however solemn their causes.
Bloom may oversimplify when he classifies modern writers by those authors of the past who seem to influence their works, whether Shakespeare, Cervantes, or others. His selection of novels especially, seems to me to be subjective and arbitrary;
other scholars would list other works, and you will probably have a list of your own that differs from Bloom's.
Thoughtful, written with a courteous, balanced tone, "How to Read and Why" deserves a place on your shelf. Recommended.