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Novels To Read and Reread

by Harold Bloom

Pub Date: Nov. 24th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-525-65726-2
Publisher: Knopf

An erudite critic recounts the pleasures of rereading.

In his latest posthumous literary memoir, eminent critic and scholar Bloom (1930-2019) remarks on the fresh insights and renewed joys that awaited him when, nearing the end of his life, he reread 48 novels. Organized chronologically—from Don Quixote, published in 1615, to Joshua Cohen’s Book of Numbers, published 400 years later—the essays often contextualize Bloom’s readings: when, where, and why he read certain novels; what teachers and readings enriched his perceptions; and how his responses changed or remained consistent over time. Although he read Moby-Dick as a child and Dickens as a young teenager, Bloom mostly read poetry before becoming obsessed, as he puts it, with Thomas Hardy at the age of 15; through Hardy, he found his way to D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, and E.M. Forster. Bloom’s selections draw heavily on the Western canon, mostly British and European writers, including Samuel Richardson, whose Clarissa Bloom reread every other year; Jane Austen, whose Persuasion, Emma, and Pride and Prejudice all “seem equally grand”; Stendhal, whose “vision of life is rather like a masked ball or a carnival performance”; Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Thackeray, whose Vanity Fair Bloom first read just before starting college at Cornell. Bloom admits to having read “only twelve” of Balzac’s novels, and of Wharton’s novels, he writes about the “sinuous and disturbing” The Reef rather than her better known The House of Mirth. A fervent admirer of Ursula Le Guin, to whom the volume is dedicated, he commemorates their brief but intense epistolary friendship. He candidly analyzes what he considers a novel’s shortcomings and where he differs with other critics’ assessments. Bloom’s ardent celebration of novels is tinged with the inevitable losses of old age: illness, physical diminishment, and the deaths of friends, mentors, and colleagues. Other novels under consideration include Tom Jones, Ulysses, The Magic Mountain, To the Lighthouse, and Blood Meridian.

Warm recollections of a singular literary life.