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How to Read and Why Paperback – October 2, 2001
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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 the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
What Bloom does instead is discuss a variety of novels and short stories. Perhaps Bloom is attempting to show how to read by providing examples of how he reads. As such, this succeeds, and the examples he provides are generally good ones.
I praise Bloom for writing as if he was one reader simply talking to another. I wish all his books were like this one. Gone is the academic Bloom who can't even take time to read his students' papers. That Bloom is replaced by someone who wants to communicate simply his love for books and for reading. Along the way he illuminates many of the novels and short stories he reviews. In this book Bloom follows the examples of his heroes, Johnson and Hazlitt, and brings readers closer to great books by showing what makes them great. Given the state of contemporary literary criticism, this is a welcome relief. Bloom returns to being what a critic should be.
My husband gave up reading "How to Read and Why" in disgust after the first five pages. That's really a shame because, despite his self-absorption, Mr. Bloom has a lot to say, and his pompous pedantry does calm down quite a bit after the prologue. I was fascinated with Mr. Bloom's thought process and his love for his subject matter is absolutely contagious. I was even enthralled by the chapter on poetry. I had never given any thought as to why (for me) poetry is so difficult to absorb and therefore, to appreciate. His advice to read, reread and memorize came to me as a revelation (despite my grade-school exercises memorizing poems).
The chapter on short stories was enlightening-I never understood the difference between a short story and a novel, aside from the length. I'm still not sure I have a perfect grasp of the difference, but I know it's more than just the length of the work... It'll be fun to start reading short stories looking for short story attributes. Mr. Bloom's analysis of Hamlet was also enlightening (a gross understatement). It reminded me of a college lecture-an enjoyable college lecture-and made me hungry for more.
My advice is, don't be put off by Mr. Bloom's style. He has much to offer. You may not agree with everything he has to say (or how he says it), but he'll sure make you think and probably learn something about yourself, and that's one of the best reasons to read!
Anyone honest enough to admit our puzzling and debilitating national obsession with the superficial and intellectually vapid electronic media should also appreciate what Bloom has to say about the qualities of mind at risk in a culture so singularly devoted to the superficial, flashy and insubstantial products emanating from every social orifice; television, movies, radio, video games. He argues quite persuasively that such devotion to the superficial products of a shallow and diversion-oriented public is precisely what is dumbing-down our society.
The obvious cure, for Bloom, is to institute a cultural program of reading, which he feels leads to a great deal more introspection and independent thought. Of course, those of us who are peripatetic readers understand how profoundly the qualities of one's individual consciousness are affected by the kinds of quiet and personal attention one pays to what is going on in the printed pages we are so drawn to.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
If you like chatting with others about great books, you'll likely enjoy this entertaining work from literary heavyweight Harold Bloom. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Mac Tipton
This dude is the pop star of the literate academic scene, and why not. Nice bookPublished 2 months ago by Sherman
Harold Bloom has read a huge number of books, and has a vast vocabulary, but I don't think he is a good writer. Read morePublished 10 months ago by JackOfMostTrades
I respect the scientific method, and often feel a reverence for it that is akin to religious experience. Read morePublished 21 months ago by Ray Erskins
Tony Daley, Novelist, Scripter, Poet, Short Story Writer Weighs In: The idea of art is to enrich, expand, and enlighten while performing that most difficult of functions, to... Read morePublished on January 5, 2014 by Tony Daley