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How To Read and Why

Reading is for discovering and augmenting the self!

By Harold Bloom
15-minute read
Audio available
How To Read and Why by Harold Bloom

How to Read and Why (2000) offers a broad introduction to some of the giants of Western literature, from William Shakespeare to Thomas Pynchon, and explains why we should read the great masterpieces composed by the world’s greatest writers.  

  • Avid readers who love great literature
  • People hoping to broaden their literary horizons
  • Fans of poetry, novels and good criticism

Harold Bloom is the Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University. An expert on William Shakespeare, he is the author of over a dozen books, including Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human and Wallace Stevens: The Poems of Our Climate.

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How To Read and Why

By Harold Bloom
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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How To Read and Why by Harold Bloom
Synopsis

How to Read and Why (2000) offers a broad introduction to some of the giants of Western literature, from William Shakespeare to Thomas Pynchon, and explains why we should read the great masterpieces composed by the world’s greatest writers.  

Key idea 1 of 9

There are five principles that will improve your reading experience.

Have you ever taken a look at War and Peace or Moby-Dick, or any other massive literary classic, and thought, “I can’t read that book, it’s too difficult.” Well, the Western literary canon certainly does include some famously impenetrable tomes (Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce, for example). But, more often than not, books are only hard to read because readers don’t know how to read them.

To get the most out of a book, you’ve got to put in work as a reader. So here are five principles that’ll make your reading more effective.

First, let go of any useless academic jargon. Just because a professor once taught you to read through a particular theoretical lens – be it Marxist or feminist or postcolonial – doesn’t mean you have to read that way. Theory often obscures more than it illuminates.

Second, read for yourself. Too many people use reading as a means of arming themselves for cultural or intellectual warfare. Don’t conscript books into your own ideological army and use them to push your personal beliefs on others. Use them to improve yourself.

This second principle dovetails nicely with the third: don’t regard reading as selfish.

Reading is an enjoyable and rewarding pursuit; it expands personal horizons and reveals new inner vistas. Because of this, people often regard reading as an indulgence, a selfish leisure activity or mere “entertainment.” But this is a blinkered view. We need readers, for it is they – the scholars and the self-seekers – who will bring new insight to the world around them and illuminate it for others.

Fourth, a reader should be an inventor. By reading well, you’ll eventually develop enough self-trust to form strong opinions about each book you read, and this will enable you to invent your own system of thought. You’ve selected Don Quixote, and not the Bible, as the cornerstone of your worldview? More power to you!

Finally, a good reader is sensitive to irony. Irony – when a person says one thing but means another – is essentially a subtype of literary metaphor, and grasping it is crucial to understanding the intent of writers such as Shakespeare or Emily Dickinson, both of whom employ it to surprising, and spectacular, effect.

With these five principles in mind, let’s explore why one should read in the first place.

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