Monday, January 19, 2009

He's Telling Me How to Read?

I'm sick, but I'm also bored. Thus, I'm posting. Now that I seem to have gotten over my two and a half week sinus infection, there's a stomach flu going around. Nice.

On a happier note, I've begun work on the 2009 Essay Reading Challenge. I was without the attention span to read anything lengthy the other day, so I picked up Harold Bloom's How to Read and Why.

I take issue with Harold Bloom on most things, but this book is designed to get the general public excited about reading. While I don't always agree with Bloom's contentions about what constitutes "good reading" and I think he's a bit of a pompous ass for trying to tell anyone what constitutes "goodness," I did enjoy some of what he had to say.

The book is broken down into sections: Short Stories, Poems, Novels (pt. 1), Plays, and Novels (pt. 2). Each section contains short essays on specific works and authors that Bloom favors. Of the essays I've read thus far, my favorite is on Flannery O'Connor. My students are reading some of her work this semester, and I've always adored her. Bloom writes:

...the people who throng O'Connor's marvelous stories are the damned, a category in which Flannery O'Connor cheerfully included most of her readers. I think that the best way to read her stories is to begin by acknowledging that one is among her damned, and then go on from there to enjoy her grotesque and unforgettable art of telling.
In particular, Bloom discusses two of my favorite O'Connor stories, "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and "Good Country People." I read both of them as a teen for a UIL Literary Criticism competition for school, and I was totally taken aback by O'Connor's...weirdness. There's no other way to put it, really. It was one of the first times, along with William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," that I realized classic literature could be creepy, shocking, and endlessly involving.

Props to Bloom for loving O'Connor. We definitely have that in common. As for his essays--meh. They're fun, and they're nice to read, and they're quick, but I actually find this essay on O'Connor, and most of the other essays in the book, less than satisfying. I feel sure if I were to read one of Bloom's longer works I would be more interested, but these essays are short for a reason: they are written for a general audience that may not necessarily be readers.


  1. I love those O'Connor stories too. The weirdness really draws you in!

  2. I'm so glad to hear I'm not the only person who thinks Harold Bloom can be a pompous ass :D

    Having said that, this does sound more interesting than I'd expect a book of his to be.

    I hope you feel better soon!

  3. Oh, Harold Bloom. You were the bane of my Literary Criticism class. It's nice to know he enjoys O'Connor, too. Her childhood home is about 30 minutes from my apartment; I'm hoping to visit it sometime this summer. I'm actually a little ashamed I haven't been yet. :)

  4. A Rose For Emily. . . I still get creeped out when I think about that one. In a "Wow, that was cool!" way. I'd probably love O'Connor!


    PS My word verification word for this comment was "perps". How weird is that? :-)

  5. I like crusty old blow-hards like Bloom. They're opinionated, and often annoying, but you can tell how passionate they are about literature. I just have to laugh at some of the opinions they have that I don't believe in. I also respect Bloom's education and years devoted to reading and learning. But occasionally frustrating? Yeah, he's that!

  6. Hope you feel better soon! Being sick sucks :(

  7. Amen, Lenore! I need to re-read one of her collections and get reaquainted with some of the ones I haven't read in ages.

    Nymeth, thanks! I was surprised...this one is rather compelling. There was a great passage in one of the introductions that I need to find again and post.

    Jessi, that's too cool! When you go be sure to take pics so you can share. :D

    Lezlie, if you liked "A Rose for Emily" I can almost promise you you'll love O'Connor. Too funny re: perps!

    Bluestalking, I do admire that about him! He has a great vigor for reading and lit that most people do not have. And he's so darn prolific!

    Thanks, Samantha!

  8. I have O'Connor's collected stories sitting on my to-read stack - it's been there for a while. I'm ashamed to say I haven't read anything of hers yet, but I definitely plan to!

    I'll add this post to our list of reviews for the Essay Challenge.

  9. I am glad I have found someone else who feels that Bloom sometimes comes over as pompous curmudgeon to say the very least. And no, you will not enjoy his longer essays either. I don't know why I read that man's writings. He is so exceedingly tedious and yet once in a while he will say something really insightful and then dadgummit I will keep reading his stuff.
    I too, find O'Connor strange and delightful.

  10. I'm not a huge O'Connor fan, but "A Good Man is Hard to Find" has stayed with me vividly since I read it in college. If I can recall little details of a book years later (or a short story), I consider that book well written. So on that front I guess I have to agree.

  11. Harold Bloom perpetuated a legend that he learned how to read before he learned how to talk. I had a difficult time taking anything he wrote seriously after hearing about that.

    Feel better!

  12. Harold Bloom is a good writer but I cannot stand his being such a snob. I don't really care what he recommends to be good. My colleague put the book on required reading list for his course, but I rather teach by example.

    PS. I hope you feel better soon.


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