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The motive for reading,
This review is from: How to Read and Why (Paperback)Most bibliophiles will pick up this exegesis from the renowned literary critic, Harold Bloom, simply on the inherent challenge in the title. For those of us who profess as much a desire and self-improving drive through the written word as Bloom does then this book will either confirm our own decisive belief in how to read and the reasons why we do it, or irritatingly deny and confound them. In some respects it can be seen as a marker, an attempt for the avid reader to classify how we should read the great texts and confirm to ourselves that `yes, we do understand them'. What Bloom, therefore, must hold himself up to, by publishing his theory, is whether his own form of literature accurately describes how the populace should read any great literary work. By the end I found it ended up with an answer to a rather different question.
Without going through the entire text there are three sections that leap out: Short stories, Novels Part I and Poetry.
Bloom opens his critical work with short story specialists. His own work reflects the genre, with short one-two pages discussions on each, their salient work(s) and the contribution to the art form. We move from Turganev and Chekov to Maupassant and Hemingway, touching through Nabokov, Borges and Calvino, all the while relating them back to Bloom's idolised literary figurehead, Shakespeare. Of particular interest is the note on Landolfi, highlighting as it does a great work, inspired by another great author, Gogol, that parodies its inspiration. Indeed, the entire concept of `Gogol's wife' takes the real and criticizes it with the absurd, yet an oddly perceptive absurd that echoes Ionesco.
In Bloom's section on poetry he is forced to follow the well-trodden path that any literary critic must do with this format: quote large tracts of various poems in order to get his meaning across, in sharp contrast to those sections ion the short story and novel. He does acknowledge this when he realises that each single word in a poem comprises far more imagery and emotion than is worth explaining or describing. Whereas the novel dictates the scene precisely, the poem offers a tantalisingly liminal nudge to the senses that the reader can allow to bloom in their own mind. As such, the section on poetry becomes more a classification of which of the great poets are in each poetical sub-genre. More a reason on why to read these poets, than how to read them. The section itself deals with Dickinson, Coleridge, Blake, Browning, Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth and the inevitable Shakespearian sonnets, amongst many others. The most interesting detail is perhaps on the Ballard of Sir Patrick Spence with its "tragic comedy almost unique in its stoic heroism", the most exhilarating the seventeenth century ballard, `Tom O'Bedlam'
Bloom's section on the novels (in two parts) opens with Cervantes' `Don'Quixote' which he professes the greatest of all novels, swiftly moving onto the incomparable Austen who's novels rely so much on society but never a justification for them and Dickens, picking firstly, Emma, then Great Expectations as their benchmarks. There is an interesting comparison between the first and revised versions of James' `Portrait' which serves to emphasize the growth of the author's vast (as Bloom would have us believe) consciousness.
So, by the end we don't feel that Bloom has given us satisfactory explanation of `how' to read and `why', more that his precis of what he considers the greatest of our literary artists suggests why we must read them specifically and (in an even more limited attempt) some pointers as to how to read them. For example,
his explanation of Shakespearian vernacular does attempt to satisfy the `how to read' as it imparts different and more clear meaning to the poetry . By the end, we are left not with an answer to his titular concept, but a rather disparate reason for our `motives' to read, best given in his summation on poetry:
"Poetry...does...startle us out of our sleep-of-death into a more capricious sense of life. There is no better motive for reading...."