Reading according to Bloom

This morning, as I was putting my socks on, my eyes fell on a shelved book from six years back, Harold Bloom´s "How to read and Why". I remember reading it, but I didn´t remember anything about it. So I thought I´d read it again. And properly this time. I thought I would let Bloom, who obviously knows a lot about reading, guide me through the canon, as he sees it. Seems like a good idea.

He starts with a prologue about why we should read at all. (I can´t make quotations, since my copy is in Swedish.) In short, he thinks we should read without preconcieved ideas, without the filter of some ideology or other. We should not read for others, but for ourselves. We should read for enlightenment. Then he goes into some detail about irony, but I didn´t really get that. He clearly thinks we should not waste our time on inferior literature. And I suppose he has a point. Personally, I always thought reading was taking part in the greatest conversation on Earth, with the cleverest people who ever lived, one that is unrestricted by time and place (in some sense, anyway). I understand fully why the great Controllers (at all levels in society, you know, them) are hostile to literature and to readers. Serious readers are open people. They allow themselves to change, to be formed, to change their minds. To be improved. They do not consider themselves as "having arrived" in life. I like that, I think reading slows aging more than any miracle cream, diet or excercise can do.

A little can suggest a lot. (Can´t remember the artist.)
Anyway, I decided to read one of his first recommendations, Anton Chekhov´s "The Lady with the Dog". A short story, says Bloom, should be read in one sitting, and we read it for the pleasure of the ending. He has a point there. I don´t like short stories that are too long, and I do like a clever ending. A twist of some sort. Chekhov´s story is a story of adultery. A 40-something Moscovite is on vacation alone in Yalta, has an affair with the dog-owning lady of the title. She is only 22, and calls her husband a "flunkey". I had to look that up (lakej, for the Swedes reading this). It´s not his first affair, he doesn´t like his wife and has no qualms about cheating on her. He goes home, expecting to forget the lady. But he does not. Instead, he seeks her out, and she comes to him in Moscow. As they fall into each other´s arms at her hotel, he thinks that now, finally, he has really fallen in love, and this is the woman he will make his own, at whatever cost. The End.

To me, he is clearly a man in a classic 40´s crisis. It´s not so much this woman, it´s that he is ready to go on now. She becomes the container of all his hope for a more meaningful life. It´s all about the timing. I got stuck on this:

"He had two lives: one, open, seen and known by all who cared to know, full of relative truth and relative falsehood, exactly like the lives of his friends and acquaintances; and another life running its course in secret. And [...] everything that was essential, of interest and of value to him, everything in which he was sincere and did not decieve himself, everything that made the kernel of his life, was hidden from other people; and all that was false in him, the sheath in which he hid himself to conceal the truth [...] all that was open. And he judged of others by himself, not believing in what he saw, and always believing that every man had his real, most interesting life under the cover of secrecy and under the cover of night. All personal life rested on secrecy, and possibly it was partly on that account that civilised man was so nervously anxious that personal privacy should be respected."

I like that. Chekhov had that published in 1899 and I wonder what he would have written in the age of Facebook. Bloom thinks the man is a parody of Chekhov himself, and that the story is all about the banality of life, even when we think it holds profound truth and importance. Perhaps. I think most people can handle a certain amount of role playing, of mask wearing, and then it becomes unbearable and they bolt. Tension builds up and all it takes is a trigger. Banal it might be, but so are most proverbs. It does not make them less true. We all long for deliverance.


  1. Har du något bra tips på tyska lättlästa böcker för att träna upp mitt ordförråd som är tragiskt litet för tillfället. Skulle vilja ägna mina bussresor till jobbet åt att bli lite bättre på tyskan.

  2. Tyvärr, inga BRA tips. Jag har själv haft samma ambition, men det stupar alltid på att jag inte hittar något som både är kul att läsa och lagom lätt på tyska. Sen tänker jag: när var jag i ett tyskspråkigt land senast? Vart vill jag åka när jag tröttnat på England? Jo, Italien. Har seriösa funderingar på att lära mig italienska istället. Tiden är knapp och man kan inte göra allt.

    Varför inte köpa en tysk modetidning (eller önska dig en surfplatta av Micke och läs http://www.vogue.de/) eller Die Zeit (http://www.zeit.de/index) eller Frankfurter Allgemeing (http://www.faz.net/s/homepage.html). På en surfplatta kan du ha Norstedts nät-ordbok uppslagen samtidigt, mycket praktiskt. Eller, om du har en vanlig läsplatta, finns en del gratis på http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/German_Language_Books_%28Bookshelf%29, både för barn och vuxna. Johanna Spyris Heidi-böcker eller en Goethe-biografi (knappast lättläst, dock), om det kan locka.

    Eller, surfa in på amazon.de. Här finns allt! Lycka till.

  3. Tack för tipset, en tidskrift blir nog bra. Har ingen surfplatta ännu men skulle gärna vilja ha en. Vi fick köpa ny dator häromveckan för barnen spillde rödvin på den gamla så vi får spara lite pengar först.

  4. Jasså BARNEN spillde rödvin på datorn... =D