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The Bright Book of Life

Fifty-Two Novels to Read and Re-Read


Harold Bloom (View Bio)
Hardcover: Alfred A. Knopf, 2020.

The Bright Book of Life

“The novel is the one bright book of life. Books are not life. They are only tremulations on the ether. But the novel as a tremulation can make the whole man alive tremble. Which is more than poetry, philosophy, science, or any other book-tremulation can do.”—D.H. Lawrence, “Why the Novel Matters”

In his first book devoted exclusively to narrative fiction, America's most original and controversial literary critic and legendary Yale professor writes trenchantly about fifty-two masterworks spanning the Western tradition.

Perhaps no other literary critic but Harold Bloom could—or would—undertake a project of this immensity, and certainly no other critic could bring to it the extraordinary knowledge, understanding, and insight that are the hallmark of Bloom's every book. Ranging across centuries and continents, this final book of his career, gives us the inimitable critic on Don Quixote and Book of Numbers; Wuthering Heights and Absalom, Absalom; Les Miserables and Blood Meridian; Vanity Fair and Invisible Man; The Captain's Daughter and The Reef. He writes about works by Austen, Balzac, Dickens, Tolstoy, James, Conrad, Lawrence, Wolff, Le Guin, Sebald, and many more. Whether you have already read these books, or intend to, or simply care about the importance and power of fiction, Harold Bloom serves as an unparalleled guide through the pages of these 52 masterpieces of the genre.

"An erudite critic recounts the pleasures of rereading. In his latest posthumous literary memoir, eminent critic and scholar Bloom remarks on the fresh insights and renewed joys that awaited him when, nearing the end of his life, he reread 48 novels. Organized chronologically—from Don Quixote, published in 1615, to Joshua Cohen’s Book of Numbers, published 400 years later—the essays often contextualize Bloom’s readings: when, where, and why he read certain novels; what teachers and readings enriched his perceptions; and how his responses changed or remained consistent over time. Although he read Moby-Dick as a child and Dickens as a young teenager, Bloom mostly read poetry before becoming obsessed, as he puts it, with Thomas Hardy at the age of 15; through Hardy, he found his way to D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, and E.M. Forster. Bloom’s selections draw heavily on the Western canon, mostly British and European writers, including Samuel Richardson, whose Clarissa Bloom reread every other year; Jane Austen, whose Persuasion, Emma, and Pride and Prejudice all 'seem equally grand'; Stendhal, whose 'vision of life is rather like a masked ball or a carnival performance'; Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Thackeray, whose Vanity Fair Bloom first read just before starting college at Cornell. Bloom admits to having read 'only twelve' of Balzac’s novels, and of Wharton’s novels, he writes about the 'sinuous and disturbing' The Reef rather than her better known The House of Mirth. A fervent admirer of Ursula Le Guin, to whom the volume is dedicated, he commemorates their brief but intense epistolary friendship. He candidly analyzes what he considers a novel’s shortcomings and where he differs with other critics’ assessments. Bloom’s ardent celebration of novels is tinged with the inevitable losses of old age: illness, physical diminishment, and the deaths of friends, mentors, and colleagues. Other novels under consideration include Tom Jones, Ulysses, The Magic Mountain, To the Lighthouse, and Blood Meridian. Warm recollections of a singular literary life." —

"This bright book of literary commentary is iconic, often controversial literary critic Bloom's final work, it's still a first for him in its strict focus on narrative fiction. It swoops through 52 masterpieces from Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote to Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man." — Library Journal

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