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How To Read and Why 1st Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0684859064
ISBN-10: 0684859068
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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

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1st edition (June 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684859068
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684859064
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #287,124 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on May 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The title of the book is misleading. Those looking for, as the title suggests it is, a primer on how to read literature deeply will be disappointed. Aside from a few pointers in the beginning, Bloom really does not explicitly address strategies for how to read and appreciate literature. In my opinion, this is unfortunate because such a book can be written and would be useful.
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.
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Format: Paperback
I can't help but compare Harold Bloom with the late Clifton Fadiman-another prolific reader and reviewer of great literature. I have used Clifton Fadiman's "The Lifetime Reading Plan" as a reference book for years and thoroughly enjoy his insight and crisp writing style. In my humble opinion, Mr. Fadiman was at least as well read and erudite as Mr. Bloom. The difference between the two is that Mr. Fadiman `s writing is all about the literature (not about Mr. Fadiman) while Mr. Bloom keeps getting in his own way-he can't seem get over himself.
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!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Years ago I read an article in The New Yorker (or maybe New York Magazine -- it's been awhile) about Harold Bloom's nocturnal pattern of staying up all night and reading. He apparently required only a few hours of sleep and spent the rest of his days and nights devouring books. On a typical night, he'd read 2-3 novels! We should be grateful that perhaps the most prolific reader of all time and an academic is able to magnanimously share his reflections in a jargon-free idiom so unlike most literary criticism. His prose is always clear and free of lit. crit. vocabulary that only a specialist would know. For that reason alone, this book is a terrific read -- it makes the reader want to go out and buy all the novels discussed and read them. What could be a better effect that a book that generates increased reading? I've enjoyed the five or so books I've read by Harold Bloom not to mention his "Bloom's Notes" series on great literary works that puts Cliffs Notes to shame. His literary knowledge is so deep and so wide that everyone, even teachers who spent years teaching these books, can pick up some useful information. I particularly enjoyed his emphasis on memorizing poetry and the effect it can have on one's life. He made me run, not walk, to pick up Stendal's The Charterhouse of Parma which I can't wait to read.
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Format: Hardcover
Simply said, this is a wonderful and important book. I am not generally a fan of Bloom or his curmudgeonly notions, but in this case I heartily agree with both his diagnosis of our current intellectual dilemma and his proposed course of palliative intervention; introduce the younger generation to the depth, breadth and scope of an introspective world open only to those who love to read. That run-on sentence out of the way, I musty add that his approach to enticing the reader into initiating the habit of regular meaningful reading is a joy to behold.
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.
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