Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Review: How to Read and Why


Several years ago, I read Great Books by David Denby and was inspired to upgrade my reading program significantly. At 48, Dendy had returned to Columbia University to take its controversial "Great Books" course and wrote his about his reawakened appreciation for and engagement with the Western canon.

Denby reminded me of the intellectual and emotional pleasure I had gotten from my own college courses on classic literature. He motivated me to go back to some of those classics and to search out other Great Books. As a result, I undertook to finish the books on the Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century list (the inspiration for this blog), bought the complete 54-volume set of The Great Books of the Western World at a library sale, and, more lastingly, began to read more deliberately.

I turned to Harold Bloom's How to Read and Why with the expectation that it would arouse the same enthusiasm in me. I was looking for bibliophile red meat and was disappointed by the thin gruel between the covers. There was enough there to keep me going, but now, a couple of months later, nothing has really stuck with me.

Bloom organized his discussion by short stories, poems, novels, and plays, then picked a few of his favorites from each and explained what he liked about them. If this was touted as a collection of essays by a brilliant literature professor reflecting on his favorite books, I may have enjoyed it more. But Bloom didn't impart to me why I should read these books, only why he did. And his lessons for how to read them seemed interchangeable – read them out loud, read them for their irony, re-read them, etc.

I think I would have been happier reading Bloom's seminal work, The Western Canon, and leaving How to Read and Why to his more ardent devotees.


If you would like your review of this book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.


This counts for the Non-Fiction ChallengeMt. TBR Challenge, Off The Shelf Challenge,  and TBR Pile Challenge


  1. Such a shame this book was disappointing. One of the things that has bothered me during chemo is that my ability to read has suffered. I can hardly wait until chemo brain is in the rear view mirror so I can get back to reading seriously and really absorbing what I read. Only one treatment left so the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter all the time.

  2. This a very good and thoughtful review. I want to make time to read such books, but I cannot find time to read the mysteries I want to read and the stacks of books I already have.

    I applaud your decision to read more deliberately.

  3. I got rid of this book a couple of years ago without having ever read it and thanks for alleviating any residual guilt!


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