Summary and book reviews of How To Read And Why by Harold Bloom

How To Read And Why

by Harold Bloom

How To Read And Why
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  • First Published:
    May 2000, 283 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2001, 283 pages

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Book Summary

Bloom's engaging prose and brilliant insights will send you hurrying back to old favorites and entice you to discover new ones. His ultimate faith in the restorative power of literature resonates on every page of this infinitely rewarding and important book.

"Information is endlessly available to us; where shall wisdom be found?" is the crucial question with which renowned literary critic Harold Bloom commences 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 threaten 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. Always dazzling in his ability to draw connections between texts across continents and centuries, Bloom instructs readers in how to immerse themselves in the different literary forms.

Probing discussions of the works of beloved writers such as William Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Charles Dickens, and William Faulkner highlight the varied challenges and delights found in short stories, poems, novels, and plays. Bloom not only provides illuminating guidance on how to read a text but also illustrates what such reading can bring -- aesthetic pleasure, increased individuality and selfknowledge, and the lifetime companionship of the most engaging and complex literary characters.

Bloom's engaging prose and brilliant insights will send you hurrying back to old favorites and entice you to discover new ones. His ultimate faith in the restorative power of literature resonates on every page of this infinitely rewarding and important book.

Contents and Prologue



CONTENTS

Preface
Prologue: Why Read?


I. Short Stories
Introduction

Ivan Turgenev, "Bezhin Lea"
Anton Chekhov, "Kasyan from the Beautiful Lands"
Guy de Maupassant, "The Kiss", "The Student", "The Lady with the Dog" "Madame Tellier's Establishment"
"The Horla"

Ernest Hemingway, "Hills Like White Elephants" "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen" "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" "A Sea Change"
Flannery O'Connor, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" "Good Country People" "A View of the Woods"
Vladimir Nabokov, "The Vane Sisters"
Jorge Luis Borges, "Tlön, Ugbar, Orbis Tertius"
Tommaso Landolfi, "Gogol's Wife"
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Summary Observations

II. Poems
Introduction

Housman, Blake, Landor, and Tennyson
A. E. Housman, "Into My Heart an Air That Kills"
William Blake, "The Sick Rose"
Walter Savage Landor, "On His Seventy-fifth Birthday"
Alfred Lord Tennyson, "The Eagle", "...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Michael Gorra

Every few pages Bloom startles with a wild surmise; quotes a passage in a way that makes you fall under its spell; offers an invaluable throwaway comment on, say, the difficulties of Milton or Dickens's sense of audience.

The New York Observer - Adam Begley

Why read Bloom? Because Bloom at his best, when you watch over his shoulder as he makes meaning out of the lines of a poem, is a wizard. Because even bad Bloom trails sparks of brilliance. Because he does insist in a world where judging by taste is shunned as invidious, on the importance of aesthetic choice. And because his trademark mantra about how to read, There is no method except yourself--a mantra he was repeating to his students decades before the word best seller ever flashed through his outsize brain--is a bold liberation from the airless squeeze of the classroom and a thrilling challenge to any reader who yearns to make the self stronger.

Publishers Weekly

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.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Bloom, the best-known literary critic of our time, shares his extensive knowledge of and profound joy in the works of a constellation of major writers, including Shakespeare, Cervantes, Austen, Dickinson, Melville, Wilde, and O'Connor in this eloquent invitation to readers to read and read well. Why read? Because reading is the most healing of pleasures. .... Bloom's clear vision and abiding humanity support his belief that only deep, constant reading fully establishes and augments an autonomous self.

Kirkus Reviews

The prolific critic Bloom (Shakespeare, 1998, etc.) has courted controversy in the last few years with his denunciations of the politically correct School of Resentment that now dominates most universities--and he has not been discreet in his attacks on many of the writers (such as Toni Morrison) that this school holds in highest esteem...... As with most of Bloom's more recent works, the great controversy here is not what he says, but whom he chooses to say it about, and the many debates that he will set off are likely not to get past his table of contents. Which will be a pity, frankly, because Bloom's insights into just about anything can be worth all of his postures. A molehill of old lectures--some of them brilliant, all of them at least worth skimming through--that will probably get made into a mountain of academic politics.

Library Journal

In the tradition of Mortimer Adler's How To Read a Book and Clifton Fadiman's Lifetime Reading Plan, the indefatigable and irascible Bloom offers his apologia for the art of reading well. Greatly saddened by contemporary academic criticism, where the appreciation of Victorian women's underwear has replaced the appreciation of Charles Dickens and Robert Browning, Bloom stridently argues that we read in order to strengthen the self, and to learn its authentic interests. .... Although Bloom's use of Shakespeare as a touchstone for his canon of great literature is sure to be controversial, his book presents a forceful argument for the power and delight of reading deeply. Highly recommended.

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