Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?, Genius, and The Western Canon (all of which are still unread) to make myself feel smart.
But part of me is glad I stumbled across him as a bright-eyed reader several years ago. He is, after all, widely recognized as our foremost literary critic. He's also the ultimate literary snob — which in some respects is a good thing, as he makes sure we don't forget about his favorite American writers like Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Don DeLillo and Cormac McCarthy. And dude also loves his Shakespeare, and the more often Shakespeare is "publicized," the better, I say. But his snobiness can certainly rub casual readers the wrong way, since he often only makes non-nerdy-literary-journal-headlines when he's complaining about something.
Two examples: In 2003, when the National Book Foundation gave Stephen King its annual Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, Bloom wrote a cantankerous op/ed for the Boston Globe titled "Dumbing Down American Readers" in which he called King an "immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis" and expostulated that if King is the criterion for distinguished, perhaps the Nobel for Literature should go to J.K. Rowling. Ouch. And speaking of Rowling, a few years before that he'd written that Rowling's "prose style, heavy on cliche, makes no demands upon her readers." Like 12-year-olds are putting aside The Sorcerer's Stone and thinking, "Man, I wish this book was a tad more literary."
How To Read and Why. While the book is more a chance for Bloom to tell you about why he reads and what he likes, there are a few interesting take-aways. He spends a lot of time talking about how important irony is — in fact, Bloom makes the argument that it may be the single most important component of good literature. That's a notion I can get behind. Looking for irony and identifying the specifics regarding how characters change throughout a novel (in reading, another technique of major import for Bloom) have really informed how I've read novels after reading Bloom's book. And it's helped me read more intelligently, catch more subtleties and arrive at the end of a novel with a better understanding of what a novelist was trying to accomplish. That's to say, I'd highly recommend How To Read and Why for any reader.
I bring this up now because Bloom just published another book (titled The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life), which he calls his "virtual swan song," as quoted in a rather academic, rather lengthy article by NY Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus. I'll be honest, I could care less about Bloom making his name taking on New Criticism, etc., etc. Unless you're a literary criticism grad student or a total and utter dork, this stuff is as dull as the day is long. But what is interesting about him, and the point of the post really, is just to share what I know about Bloom, and to point out what an enduring — and, frankly, important — literary figure Bloom is. And that it's sad that he's winding down his career. If you've read him, chances are you either love or hate him, but you definitely have an opinion about him.
What's yours? Which Bloom books (or articles) have you read? What'd you think and why?