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How to Read and Why


Harold Bloom (View Bio)
Hardcover: Scribner, 2000; Paperback: Touchstone, 2001.

How to Read and Why

Information is endlessly available to us; where shall wisdom be found?" is the crucial question with which renowned literary critic Harold Bloom begins 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 threatens 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. His ultimate faith in the restorative power of literature resonates on every page of this infinitely rewarding and important book.

New York Times Best Seller

"This aesthetic self-help manual is a reliably idiosyncratic guide to what Yale literary critic Bloom calls 'the most healing of pleasures' — reading well.... Bloom takes readers on a swift but satisfying joyride through the West's most outrageous, original, and exuberant texts... his text is passionately anecdotal and observant." — Publishers Weekly

"Perhaps the only literary critic to regularly hit the bestseller list...Mr. Bloom this time takes on Americans' bad reading habits.... The book turns out to be a spirited discussion of the joys that reading still has to give us in an age of digital information. " — The Wall Street Journal

"It would be possible to fill a review of Bloom's work with his own phrases, so prodigal is his insight.... He is the reader as human medium, an instrument through whom inspiration strikes: in turn he renders visible the lineament of other writers' imaginations while articulating the generally inchoate and undeveloped responses of the average reader...Magnificent...he is never less than memorable." — Peter Ackroyd, The Times (London)

"Harold Bloom is one of the greatest literary critics of his time....HOW TO READ AND WHY is, among other things, the testament of a veteran — a man who like Tennyson's Ulysses is a part of all that he has read." — Washington Post

"Harold Bloom at his finest...[He] is a great critic — I would argue the greatest living critic writing in English — as well as a great teacher...HOW TO READ AND WHY... is superb...Amazingly provident content...The greatest of many delights I found in reading HOW TO READ AND WHY is how pleasant, unstraining was the experience. Bloom uses clear, simple English to make clear, if not simple, some of the most complex issues of literature...The ever-astonishing depth of Bloom's capacities of recall and analysis stand on modest self-recognition...This is a wonderfully entertaining book, and one of deep — though never pedantic — scholarship. Above all, it is a work of profound moral purpose...[An] extraordinarily wise, nourishing, and beautiful volume." — Baltimore Sun

"Exhilarating.... Bloom wants to awaken an almost religious awareness of literature's ability to enlarge the spirit, and focuses on such matters as a writer's power, a character's vitality and a critic's need for gusto. Bloom demands that we expand our sense of wonder..... The thrill of watching a master do what he does with no larger agenda than to show us how to do it well.... Bloom, who has written tens of thousands of pages on the playwright can still startle — and interest — us with the largeness of the claims he makes for Shakespeare's imaginative greatness." — The New York Times

"The latest book of literary criticism from the venerable Harold Bloom offers up his convictions on why reading literature is good for us. It allows the 70-year-old Bloom to share ideas he has developed over the course of a lifetime as a noted intellectual, academic and teacher. Bloom organises his book by selecting his favourite works from the genres of short story, poetry, drama and the novel. They are all classic works from the traditional canon of Western literature - unsurprisingly, since Bloom is the great champion of the Western literary canon. Any suggestion that literature might be legitimately 'reduced' to a set of social, or political, or historical texts is fiercely opposed. From this position flows the key idea of the book: reading literature is an intensely personal, individualistic experience, with no real social or political function. Reading 'strengthens the self', it 'cultivates an individual consciousness'. Hence Bloom is only interested in texts which, in his view, transcend the limits of history and culture and provide a timeless continuity of Western thought and experience. Bloom talks about his favourite texts with a passion and sensitivity that make for an exhilarating read in parts, which will prompt many readers to go out and experience (or re-experience) these authors for themselves. He can be delightfully outrageous, however, as when he claims that 'Shakespeare's rhetorical and imaginative resources transcend those of Yahweh, Jesus, and Allah'. But for readers looking for self-improvement, Bloom doesn't spend much time offering practical advice. In fact, his 'how-to' can be summed up in four brief statements: read slowly, read aloud, re-read, and (where possible) memorise. These precepts are waved as magical talismans for aspiring readers of literature, but will such simple techniques really create sophisticated reading skills? Many readers of this book will expect rather more practical and detailed directions on how to read well. As for the second part of his title, Bloom drops his answer to the question 'why read?' in a series of almost throwaway epigrams. Reason that he throws against the wall include: to alleviate loneliness, to recognise the possibility of the good, to find ourselves, to understand America, to achieve an advanced sense of freedom, to startle us into a more capacious sense of life and to make us wiser. All his reasons for reading, however, revolve around his lodestone conviction that literature is for 'strengthening the self'. In fact, for Bloom good reading is vital for maintaining individualism and hence Western civilisation as we have known it. This book is a piece of brilliant propaganda for that view, and a series of often sparkling readings of individual texts." — Simon Alderson, South China Morning Post

"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...in this eloquent invitation to read and read well...He then lights the way in expert and passionate interpretations of short stories...poetry...plays and novels. Every analytical performance is exhilarating, and his essay on Proust is one of the most beautiful and insightful tributes to the restorative powers of literature ever written. Bloom's clear vision and abiding humanity support his belief that 'only deep, constant reading fully establishes and augments an autonomous self.'" — Booklist

"Blindingly obvious, is how you could describe Harold Bloom's case for reading in HOW TO READ AND WHY. But modern blindness — the sightlessness that only reads adverts and lifestyle magazines, and subcontracts wisdom to technology — shows that the great critic's arguments are far from superfluous. Bracing and stuffed with the manic-obsessive pleasure of reading, this is the great handbook of a neglected activity." — Julian Evans, The Statesman (UK)

"[I]lluminating...replete with quicksilver insights and off-slant delights." — Boston Globe

"[E]very few pages Bloom startles with a wild surmise; quotes a passage in a way that makes you fall under its spell." — The New York Times Book Review

"[A] finely crafted meditation on the powers of great literature...Bloom's assiduous interpretations of the works...will send readers running to the books themselves.... [H]is book presents a forceful argument for the power and delight of reading deeply. Highly recommended." — Library Journal

"[A] bold liberation from the airless squeeze of the classroom and a thrilling challenge to any reader who yearns to make the self stronger." — Adam Begley, New York Observer

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