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The second printing of Shakespeare as Political Thinker gives hope to those interested in relearning ancient wisdom and pays tribute to its inspiration, Shakespeare's Politics (Allan Bloom).
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I read the book, and then asked myself, "What is it about?" Surely this is not just one more collection of well known works destined to become a college text? Bloom says early in the book the "How to Read" consists of 1) Clearing the mind of Cant (eschew topics like multiculturism, sexism, racism); 2) Reading to improve yourself not others; 3) Reading to become a scholar, "a candle which the love and desire of all men will light"; 4) Reading like an inventor -- engage in "creative dyslexia"; 5) Reading to recover the ironic. Bloom believes the loss of irony is the death of reading.
What struck me about Bloom's collection is that almost without exception, these works include violence. Most of the violence stems from angry White males. Some are suffering rejection or loss, real or imagined -- ("La Belle.." by Keats, Milton's "Pardise Lost" (isn't Satan a White Male?), Hamlet, Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying", McCarthy's "Blood Meridian"). Some of the violence is induced by males, "Hedda Gabler" by Ibsen, Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment", "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Coleridge. Even Ellison's "Invisible Man" and Austen's "Emma" are affected. ("Emma" has a violent scene where angry whites who have been disenfranchised by the Enclosure Acts attack Emma and Miss Smith, however, Bloom does not discuss it.)
I personally like many of the writers Bloom includes in his anthology -- Dickensen, Austen, Keats, Whitman, and Wilde, but wonder why he did not include George Elliot, Virginia Wolfe, Nathanial Hawthorn, Henry David Thoreau, or Mark Twain in other than passing comment. I would not have chosen some of the examples of the author's works that he included, but it's his book and reflects his taste. And, I disagree with one or two of his interpretations. For example, I think Robert Groves was correct when he linked "La Belle.." by Keats to the White Goddess. Bloom discounts Groves interpretation, linking it to his troubles with his personal love life, but a few pages later Bloom implies the reader shouldn't get too "Freudian" when reading, which I think is exactly what had done with Groves and "La Belle..."
This book left me weary, unlike the much longer, recently realeasd collection of Lionel Trilling's essays "The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent." One wonders if Trilling had lived to the end of the 20th Century if he would have reflected such bitterness and nihilism. I think not.
This slim book is broken down into 5 parts : short stories, poems, novels, plays, and more novels. Sometimes there isn't enough commentary to make his picks interesting. I must say I do enjoy his commentary, though. I wanted more! He is impressively erudite.
Turgenev, Chekhov, Blake, Hemingway, Milton, Keats, O'Connor, Melville - the list goes on. He doesn't just like the popular classics. He seems to go after the works these illustrious authors aren't always given credit for and praise. I wanted more on 'Moby Dick' (one of MY favorites).
Put this one on the bedside table with a pen. It is obvious Bloom wanted to share his passion and the importance of reading to develop our internal selves. Read with all of your self and never stop.
My husband gave up reading "How to Read and Why" in disgust after the first five pages. That's really a shame because, despite his self-absorption, Mr. Bloom has a lot to say, and his pompous pedantry does calm down quite a bit after the prologue. I was fascinated with Mr. Bloom's thought process and his love for his subject matter is absolutely contagious. I was even enthralled by the chapter on poetry. I had never given any thought as to why (for me) poetry is so difficult to absorb and therefore, to appreciate. His advice to read, reread and memorize came to me as a revelation (despite my grade-school exercises memorizing poems).
The chapter on short stories was enlightening-I never understood the difference between a short story and a novel, aside from the length. I'm still not sure I have a perfect grasp of the difference, but I know it's more than just the length of the work... It'll be fun to start reading short stories looking for short story attributes. Mr. Bloom's analysis of Hamlet was also enlightening (a gross understatement). It reminded me of a college lecture-an enjoyable college lecture-and made me hungry for more.
My advice is, don't be put off by Mr. Bloom's style. He has much to offer. You may not agree with everything he has to say (or how he says it), but he'll sure make you think and probably learn something about yourself, and that's one of the best reasons to read!