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ABC of Reading Paperback – 1 Feb 1960

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions Publishing (1 Feb. 1960)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811201511
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811201513
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,206,086 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 3 July 2001
Format: Paperback
Part of Pound's tireless campaign to educate the English-reading public into an understanding of poetry, and to educate English-writing poets. The book's in two parts. The second is an idiosyncratic 100-page anthology of extracts English poems from Chaucer on. The first is a broadside in short chapters and Pound's inimitable telegraph style, on what to read. As always with Pound, the suggestions are designed to stimulate dissent and to smash commonplace opinions: no one can learn to write poetry by reading merely English ... Shakespeare's histories are his best work ... you only need to know the 300 words that make up a foreign-language poem to read it. Peppered with thought-provoking ideas about poetry and literature: "Literature is news that STAYS news"; "Poets are the antenae of the race". Interetsing suggestions for further reading: on why you MUST (as Pound would say) read Dante, Sappho or Crabbe. Pound is so admirable in so many ways: he never wrote to flatter; he hated ignorance and the watered-down values of the literary world; he was an educator -- that is, he beleived that good writing was for everyone, and wanted them to read that rather than bad writing. This manic, authoritative, enthused book should be sent to every poetry publisher, not as a set of rules to be followed but as a challenge to poetry to be aspire to the what is best rather than what is merely competent.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 12 Nov. 2007
Format: Paperback
This small book contains notes for lectures given by the author, and even propositions for student exercises.
Ezra Pound's comments on language, poetry, drama and music are very astute and actual.
There are two kinds of written language, one based on sound (English), the other based on sight (Chinese).
Three chief means charge language with meaning: visual imagination, emotional correlations by sound and speech, and stimulation of associations remained in consciousness in relation to the actual word groups. Most human perceptions date from long time ago, before we were born.
Poetry atrophies when it gets too far from music. Music rots when it gets too far from dance.
The medium of poetry is words; the medium of drama is people, using words.
Cinema supersedes a great deal of second-rate narrative and a great deal of theatre.

On writing and writers, Ezra Pound is very severe.
An author should write in order to teach, to move, to delight (R. Agricola). He should use an efficient, accurate and clear language. He should not use words that contribute nothing to the meaning or that distort from the most important factor of the meaning.
The dirtiest book is a manual telling people how to earn money by writing.

This book contains excellent comments on his preferred authors: Homer, Chaucer, Villon, Dante, Shakespeare, but also G. Crabbe or W.S. Landor.
Some of his examples however, should have been translated (`Ne maeg werigmod wyrde widhstondan').
He stresses rightly the importance of art: `A nation which neglects the perceptions of its artists declines.'

A very worth-while read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Keith A. Mellard on 8 July 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Whilst, obviously Mr Pound's take on how one should read, I found the book educational. However, I read it twice, and am glad I persisted. Once may well be enough for cleverer people.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 27 reviews
64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
Maddeningly Brilliant 8 Sept. 2005
By Barnaby Thieme - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A typical sentence: "Anyone who is too lazy to master the comparatively small glossary necessary to understand Chaucer deserves to be shut out from the reading of good books forever."

You may use this quote as a meter for predicting your enjoyment of the book. If you find it amusing and arguable, Pound's ABC of Reading will delight you with its erudite gems. If you are repulsed by the presumption, then give the book a wide berth.

Pound sets a standard for basic literacy that few literature scholars can hope to achieve (including mastery of several languages as a pre-requisite to study). Nonetheless, the book is a treasure trove of brilliant and piquant observations, and is itself an exemplar of the crystaline prose Pound extolled. You would be hard-pressed to find an ostentatious or superflous word in the book's entire 200 briskly-moving pages.
47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
Read this book with a pen in your hand 21 Jan. 2005
By Michael P. McCullough - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Read this book with a pen in your hand because you are going to want to underline the dozens of amazing sentences and little paragraphs, as well as scribble complaints and disparaging comments next to the rash and just plain faulty ones.

This book will astonish and anger a thoughtful reader. It is not a coherent essay that moves logically from point to point - it is a jarring, manic kaleidoscope.

Since I am a typical American and only understand one language (English, modern) some of this volume was lost to me - but this book is well worth the time you will spend reading it. Highly recommended for all striving writers and people who would like to read more earnestly.
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Rantings of Correctness 27 Jun. 2001
By Lucas Klein - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Pound was an angry, noisy man whose honesty--and the extent to which the volcano of his personality burns through his prose--is convincing and, when it comes to literature, correct. I can think of no one I'd rather have read anything I've written & say: damn good.
He's dead & that's not going to happen. But we can still get the brash truth about literature, in easy-to-remember pithy comments such as "Literature is news that STAYS news" or comparisons of writing to making a table (don't matter which leg you start with so long as it stands upright when you're done) or to writing a check (the writing of a bad check is a criminal act). He also tells us why, say, Milton was a lousy poet & Homer a great one.
The all-embracing, subjective, if-someone-likes-it-then-it's-good parts of us will reel against some of Pound's fascistic judgements, but the arbiter of taste in each of us, the madman or woman who fumes at how ad. copy is deadening our linguistic nerves, will stand proud at owning, reading, & quoting--often--The ABC of Reading.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Wish I'd read this earlier 8 Jan. 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I'd been exposed to Pound's poetry in college but never came across this gem. His opinions are unconventional, but the arguments are convincing and enlightening. His categorization of Chaucer, and Chaucer's England, as being more a part of the European community than England was in Shakespeare's time is fascinating. The unspoken extension would be that many writers today are provincial and less cosmopolitan than writers in the past, in spite of the Internet and the pervasive belief that "the world is smaller" today. I also appreciated Pound's criticism of Milton's odd sentence structure as the result of too much Latin and the inappropriate and confusing attempt to make uninflected English sound like Latin by changing the word order. By virtue of the noun cases, the same Latin sentence may be constructed differently to change the emphasis. This is impossible in English even though Milton attempted it.
The book is full of these unconventional observations, and challenges the reader to look more critically at the classics, let alone at the junk with which we are inundated today.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Pound is not Dogmatic, but definitely Stillmatic* 26 Jan. 2002
By "byzanthem" - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
At the outset, it's important to note that Mr. Pound offers ABC of Reading as a "text-book that can also be read 'for pleasure as well as profit' by those no longer in school; by those who have not been to school; or by those who in their college days suffered those things which most of my own generation suffered".
We're all duly welcomed to Mr. Pound's class. However, once the door is shut, he throws harsh (and gut-bucket funny) criticism at snobbishness, poor preparation, and laziness -- especially targeting the teacher who, by any of these vices, would lead any student away from the very personal road of discovery, i.e. away from critical thought that is no respecter of persons, even great persons. Too many jabs to count, but here are a couple of his friendliest (and well-placed) shots:
1. Anybody who is too lazy to master the comparatively small glossary necessary to understand Chaucer deserves to be shut out from the reading of good books for ever.
2. It would take a bile specialist to discover why the Oxford Book of Verses includes the first five strophes (of John Donne's "The Ecstasy") and then truncates the poem with no indication that anything has been omitted.
On this "no slackers" context he elaborates a simple core message: Look at a work for what it is and for what the author intends; then, learn by comparing it to worthy counterexamples. One example of Pound's guidance on this point: "The way to study Shakespeare is to study it side by side with something different and of equal extent. The proper antagonist is Dante who is of equal size and DIFFERENT. ...You can't judge any chemical's reaction merely by putting it with more of itself."
Pound also dares you to either study languages or remain ignorant to the weight of timeless literature. "There is no use...in my publisher asking me to make English literature as prominent as possible. I mean, not if I am to play fair with the student. You cannot learn to write by reading English." (Also, Read p. 35, par. 2 for the MOST telling and eloquent statement on this fact.)
In sum, Mr. Pound is far from dogmatic. No man who issues a fair challenge can be considered so. He told you as much: "My lists (of poems) are a starting-point and a challenge. This challenge has been open for a number of years and no one has yet taken it up. There have been general complaints, but no one has offered a rival list." Calling him dogmatic thus becomes a wimp-out on an invitation to hard study and thought.
That said, it should not be lost on anyone that Pound's invitation is nearly the equivalent of the boxing critic being challenged to a round by Muhammad Ali in his prime.
Nevertheless, as students of literature and life, we should be willing to run Pound's gauntlet long before offering up any dogma on Pound himself or the work in question. Our only recourse, though, is it's own reward since we are free to fearlessly question even Mr. Pound along the way.
As a bonus, I believe any reader will gain even more by taking up the opening invitation to read the book "for pleasure as well as for profit". Do this times over and with a lens much wider than the literary. ABC of Reading then reads as a solid treatise on living and learning.
*NAS, Stillmatic 2001-2. "You want beef? I hope you got yourself a gun." Pound says no less. Come ready.
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