I like to read. I’ve decided it’s time I learn how to read.
I don’t know when I first figured out how to read the written word, but I’ve always been a reader. When I was young, I’d ride my bicycle to the library and return home with my backpack full of books. I’d devour each one and then return to the library for my next batch. I was a compulsive page-turner, finishing a book so I could read the next. Once I entered high school and then college, my “compulsive” reading slowed to only “assigned” reading. I was trying to pass my classes. I did well, and I graduated. It’s been a few years since school. Last year, I realized I was back to my schoolgirl habit: “page-turning,” not reading.
I realized I wasn’t really ingesting the books I read. How can I really “read” a book, even fiction, to get something out of it?
Enter: How to Read and Why by Harold Bloom. HTR&W is a very opinionated “guide” to reading. I’ve already read parts of it, but I’ve decided to slow down, reread it, and internalize it: a challenge to myself to learn to read all over again by reviewing Bloom’s selection of “examples and instances.”
Bloom says in the preface:
This book teaches how to read and why, proceeding by a multitude of examples and instances: poems short and long; stories and novels and plays. The selections [in this book] should not be interpreted as an exhaustive list of what to read, but rather as a sampling of works that illustrate why to read. (emphasis added)
He discusses each work on his list in just a page or two, discussing what makes it good, what he does to improve his reading of it, and why he considers it a work worth reading. I’m not exactly sure what he says about each work because I haven’t read his book yet! But I intend to analyze just what he’s saying and try to apply it to my own reading of these same works.
Bloom began his preface by saying:
There is no single way to read well, though there is a prime reason why we should read. Information is endlessly available to us; where shall wisdom be found?
He suggests that we each read for ourselves, and therefore there is no “correct” way to read. However, since we’re all still searching for ourselves, he suggests we could use some guidance when we approach literature so we can get the “deepest and wildest” pleasures from reading. I like that idea.
While he’s obviously going to spend the entire book discussing why and what to read and how to approach it, I love what he says in the preface about reading:
Reading well is one of the great pleasures that solitude can afford you, because it is, at least in my experience, the most healing of pleasures. It returns you to otherness, whether in yourself or in friends, or in those who may become friends. Imaginative literature is otherness, and as such alleviates loneliness. We read not only because we cannot know enough people, but because friendship is so vulnerable, so likely to diminish or disappear, overcome by space, time, imperfect sympathies, and all the sorrows of familial and passional life.
I’m going to read Bloom’s list of works (stories, poems, novels, and plays) along with his book discussing them. I’m going to treat HTR&W like a textbook and Bloom’s narration as a teacher’s voice: I won’t always agree with him and he’s opinionated, but I will hopefully learn something by the end. I’m sure, as in all reading lists, I won’t agree with his judgment of excellence of all of these works, and there is something conceited about his attitude that I can and should learn to read in the ways he suggests. But no matter: I look forward to learning how to make my reading a more personal experience.
I hereby give myself a personal challenge to read all of the works on the How to Read and Why list.