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How To Read and Why by Harold Bloom

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

To read this book is to celebrate more consciously the pleasure of reading. Harold Bloom gives all readers an assignment which is to read deeply, attentively, and solitarily. And what’s in this book is an elaborate catalog of books you can buy right away and start reading.

Anton Chekov, Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Shakespeare, Calvino, Walt Whitman, Jane Austen, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Henry James, Cervantes. There are so many thoughtful and passionate book recommendations in this - you need not go elsewhere.

How to Read and Why - Harold Bloom book review

Buy the book: Amazon

In the introduction, Bloom writes that...

“Reading well is one of the great pleasures that solitude can afford you because it is the most healing of pleasures.”

And when asked “Why Read?” he answers by saying that...

“One of the uses of reading is to prepare ourselves for change, and the final change alas is universal.”

And lastly, he bridges the gap between the assertion of the self to that of reading well with this very thought-provoking sentence:

When “reading falls apart, much of the self scatters with it.”

This brings you closer to that Reader’s Sublime which is the most and only secular transcendence a reader can ever attain. Bloom urges us to find what truly comes near to us, that can be used for weighing and considering. To read deeply, not to believe, not to accept, not to contradict, but to learn to share in that one nature that writes and reads.

Think of the book recommendations as multiple literary landing places that you need to arrive at. And Harold Bloom’s writing is the compass that points you and guides you through your journeys.

Now I haven’t even come close to reading all the books that Harold Bloom writes about. And yet even now, after reading this book through, I keep going back to these essays and re-reading them. Sort of imprinting them in my mind because of the way they’ve been put across. So insightful, vivid, and artistically-powerful. I have never read a book like this.

In Literature, the only constant is the solitary act of reading. But even that, Harold Bloom writes, has been deeply mistranslated. The function of solitary reading - be it short stories, plays, poetry, novels - is grossly misunderstood as an appetite for escapism or to provoke the fancies of idealism. What it is, what it could ever be, is a preparation for change, a profound realization of ‘self’.

How To Read And Why offers you a combination of literature’s most whimsical, intelligent, and piercing treasures. The start of the book reclaims and reignites a reader’s lost soul. Harold Bloom evokes wisdom and transcendence in a single breath. His understanding of literature affords you both the solitude and the seductions of reading. The kind that restricts no depth, no essence, and no duration. Some familiar, some strange. But all passionate and necessary to nurture the resilience of one’s life and the role of literature in it.

To read means to elevate the stirrings of a self. To read means to decipher and deconstruct one’s emotional and intellectual solitudes. The absoluteness of the universe that represents the ambiguity of those who are part of it.

Harold Bloom intimates the genius and generosity of those we rarely mull over in our daily chaos and calm. Shakespeare, Chekov, Turgenev, Flannery O’Connor, Hemingway, Nabokov, Whitman, Proust, Bronte, Dickens, Henry James, and so many others. He shines a penetrating light into the many labyrinths and recesses of literature. The lessons, the epiphanies, the ethos of life and death.

“There are still solitary readers, young and old, everywhere, even in the universities. If there is a function of criticism at the present time, it must be to address itself to the solitary reader, who reads for herself, and not for the interests that supposedly transcend the self.”

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