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How To Read and Why Hardcover – June 5, 2000
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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
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
- Publisher : Scribner; 1st edition (June 5, 2000)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0684859068
- ISBN-13 : 978-0684859064
- Item Weight : 1 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.9 x 0.97 x 8.84 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #156,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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This is what I gleaned from reading Harold Bloom’s “How to Read and Why.” Years ago I bought the book hoping to learn how to read, and truly appreciate poetry, but also to gain insight into the very best storytelling in literature. Ironically, I got stumped in the section entitled: “Poems.” So, I put the book aside, and only resumed reading it when I couldn’t stand to read anything else. And it has turned out to be a kind of salvation.
Now I feel as if Bloom’s intellectual breadth and detailed knowledge of literature can all but raise the dead. At the very least it can warm the coldest spirit and soften the hardest heart. Bloom’s descriptions of the complex savagery and comedic genius of the most unforgettable characters in world literature serve to redeem us. His account of Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” and Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” shock us with lightning revelations as to the true nature of human existence, its cruel ironies, its wicked Norwegian trolls, and “high” society’s meaningless, insincere nonsense.
Along the way, Bloom’s intellectual breadth and knowledge of what he calls “The Western Canon,” and its theological functions, can take any susceptible reader to a new level of awareness, both of self and the cosmos. His notion of Shakespeare’s “invention of the human” becomes as palpable as flesh and blood in his explorations of Hamlet, which are as deep and dark as the concept of enigma itself.
There are also countless suggestions as to why we should read sprinkled throughout the book at the opportune moments, such as when Bloom has provided a poignant example, or made some very demonstrative point. I have come away from this book convinced that no other medium can transmit such vital information as poetry, drama, the short story, or the novel. These are the real “Reality TV” that we need to be watching – quietly, in the refuge of our study, and in the sanctity of our own soul.
The book is structured by Bloom's analysis of short stories, poetry, plays, and novels. Each section is about a specific work and consists of 3-7 pages. It can be picked up and read at a leisurely pace. Who knows, maybe I'll read it again as it did seem to have some parts that would've been more fruitful if I spent more time thinking about. So I recommend it, but it was a little short of what I was expecting.
This book is great to help writers understand the background and persepctive about authors, poets, etc. May not be a book everyone will like as it seems Bloom sounds like he's rambling. But pay close attention, he has very good information to share.
Top reviews from other countries
Bloom's views on genre, from short stories to novels, are tremendously valuable. I particularly liked his selection on poetry which is surprising and richly combined.
In another note I would say that the relation among authors and styles and the combination of names has a meaning on its own sense. The reader may approach to a sort of a vivid intertextuality that triggers ideas and interesting conclusions to get the whole picture of genre, theme and times.
Some may ask if a book of reviews may spoil those texts the reader have not undertaken. I would say that, as when you travel to a city, this may work as a guide to walk around without losing important details.
Finally, after Bloom's How and Why, it's been a great exercise to ask to myself, "what" did I got from any book I've gone through. Sometimes, my answer matches Bloom's ... sometimes something utterly mine and new comes after the question...
And it is magnificent. The book goes to some authors (more representative, preferred by the author, historically relevant, or else; it doesn't matter) and from there it reviews some of the works. It doesn't center at all in the English language - it is very good with Borges, Cervantes, Calvino and many other Europeans. The reviews of works is brief (sometimes merely a page) but we get plenty of information. All the canonicals are here, but also some other less "mainstream" - such as Eudora Welty.
And all with the passionate, opinionated and very personal style of Harold Bloom, whom we sadly lost only a few months ago. Impossible not to jump to the many references and books it contains.
A joy of a book that can be read in one sitting (or two) and which will make any reader to carry on with the works mentioned in its pages.