I might try to write a full review of this book today, but after 3 rewarding weeks reading Don Quixote, it's hard to think of anything else.
I think thI might try to write a full review of this book today, but after 3 rewarding weeks reading Don Quixote, it's hard to think of anything else.
I think that 3 stars is probably the result of rounding upward from 2.5 simply for semi-appreciation of the humor in the first 2 books. But Rabelais's style grew tiresome and i just wanted to finish so that i could be done with it and move on to Cervantes.
I do not recommend this book unless you know somebody who can explain to you how to appreciate it — it's just too different, too PROTO-novelian for me....more
Recommendations/What to Read: I recommend this book to anybody who wants inspiration to be a writer because i don't know if i've ever read a better jusRecommendations/What to Read: I recommend this book to anybody who wants inspiration to be a writer because i don't know if i've ever read a better justification for writing or a more inspiring explanation of why someone wrote what he wrote. (Note: it’s waaaaaaaaaaay at the end, though.)
Read all 3,000+ pages IF AND ONLY IF you want to brag about such an achievement. (I feel a sense of accomplishment, but i’ve also got a lot more lost time after reading it all.)
If, unlike me, you do not want a dubious reason to pat yourself on the back, you might be happier reading just the long (enough), self-contained (pretty much), first part ("novel"), Swann's Way / Du côté de chez Swann, of the seven-part meganovel.
Or you could follow one of the many suggested abbreviated readings. The following is from Roger Shattuck: + "Combray" and "Swann in Love" sections of Swann's Way + "Balbec" section of Within a Budding Grove / A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs + "The Grandmother's Death" from The Guermantes Way / Le côté de Guermantes + first & last 30pp of Cities of the Plain / Sodom et Gomorrhe + first 30pp + ~200pp of the concert @ the Verdurins' in The Captive / La prisonnière + last 200pp of Time Regained / Le temps retrouvé
Mary Ann Caws, interviewed as part of the audio version of Swann's Way that i listened to months ago, has her own "greatest hits." I remember it being much like Shattuck’s but she specifically recommended "The Intermittencies of the Heart" from Sodom and Gomorrah. And when you consider that was one of the titles Proust considered for the entire work, it's hard to imagine skipping that section.
Some initial thoughts: Not quite 3 months to read this 7-headed beast. Faster than i expected but probably because i gave a lot of the book less than my full attention. Huge sections of books 3, 4, 5, & 6 felt interminable even though—or is it because?—i wasn't even concentrating on the words, sentences, and (excruciatingly long) paragraphs.
Maybe it deserves 5 stars, but the fantastic ending, the befuddling but always intriguing beginning, the startling metaphors/similes (almost exclusively, for me, in the first 600pp), the astonishing depth and breadth of self-analysis, the curious theories (esp. about love & sex; an invert's [his own term] seemingly inverted version of inversion? [i.e., homosexuality] for example)—in short, the parts that i most enjoyed, even when they're all added up, fail to compensate completely for that which bored me to tears tried my patience.
I triple underlined the following quote near the very end because i consider it the perfect seedling for all personal reviews
...with [my book's] help I would furnish [my readers] with the means of reading what lay inside themselves. So that I should not ask them to praise me or to censure me, but simply to tell me whether "it really is like that," I should ask them whether the words that they read within themselves are the same as those that I have written (though a discrepancy in this respect need not always be the consequence of an error on my part, since the explanation could also be that the reader had eyes for which my book was not a suitable instrument). [emphasis mine]
On the sane basis of that method of assessing a book's value, i give Proust a "meager" 4 stars for his Herculean and fully laudatory efforts because in enough ways it "was not a suitable instrument" for my particular eyes.
Shattuck's "field guide" touts Proust's "comic vision," but i think Shattuck confuses that term with "comedic timing" because in the chapter about comic vision he says that Proust withholds information so that we're mentally tickled when finally, at long last we receive it. If the "lull" (the set-up lines) must precede the "bang" (the punchline), then what kind of bang should we expect after about a 2,000 page doldrums? Was Proust so confident in his "punchline" that not even the anesthetized-with-boredom mental state i found myself in after 2 months of literary motionlessness could numb its effect on me? I was thrilled with the culmination of the novel, but i believe that i would've been thrilled even if i'd undertaken an abbreviated reading.
I always feel compelled to talk about translation. For this work, in English, just the titles provide enough content for entire volumes of exasperation. "Cities of the Plain"?! Why is anybody hanging on to that atrocious euphemism when "Sodom and Gomorrah" are no longer tabu? And as if "Remembrance of Things Past" isn't enough of a bastardization, what the hell were they thinking when they came up with "The Sweet Cheat Gone"? Is that another phrase cribbed from Shakespeare? Even if it is, it's a patently ridiculous "translation" of Albertine disparue.
I can't resist the urge to write like Proust. Can you tell? I yearn for more verb tenses. Why must English be so limited? ;-)
I'll try to write a real review eventually....more
I decided to read this book as a prelude (of sorts) to my 2010 reading goal of tackling as many of the biggest and best novels of all time in a singleI decided to read this book as a prelude (of sorts) to my 2010 reading goal of tackling as many of the biggest and best novels of all time in a single year as possible (on my great-big-novels virtual bookshelf). Thomas C. Foster's two How to Read...Like a Professor books sorta planted the seeds; i've been tending the fields ever since (making lists, buying books); The Western Canon has provided free fertilizer and expert horticultural advice. I can't wait to reap what has been sowed.
Bloom's book ennobles the act of reading, provides justification for the modern go-getter to set aside (i.e., "waste") the hours required for this slow pastime, and—as the San Diego Union-Tribune reviewer's back-cover blurb says—best of all, "enhances our enjoyment of reading." To me, that alone is almost worthy of 5 stars. But maybe i should've given it 4 stars because of (a) my anxiety about being so much less well-read than Bloom (despite the vast storehouse of knowledge i amassed during a 4-year baccalaureate degree program at a state-funded university ;-) ) and (b) my resentment toward him for not explaining moreat all.
This quote hit me smack between the eyes and is what i think of as The Germ Idea for the whole shebang.
Traditions tell us that the free and solitary self writes in order to overcome mortality. I think that the self, in its quest to be free and solitary, ultimately reads with one aim only: to confront greatness. That confrontation scarcely masks the desire to join greatness, which is the basis of the aesthetic experience once called the Sublime: the quest for a transcendence of limits. Our common fate is age, sickness, death, oblivion. Our common hope, tenuous but persistent, is for some version of survival. (p.389)
Realization: my 2010 reading goal is a quest for transcendence, significance, greatness...it's at least a quest to approach within sight of these things as created and represented by others. Realization: Maybe that's why my dream of being a writer hasn't fully died! Realization: my main resentment toward Bloom and this book is its power to make my fear of death as conscious & palpable as it has ever been. Realization: my fear of death fuels my love of reading and writing and always has. Lightbulb moment: i actually had a thought, an inkling, a glimmer of a Meaning of Life (which i'm not going to share), which is quite a moment for a sad little atheist like me.
Now: a lot of folks dislike ("resent"?) Bloom's ideas generally and this book's in particular it seems. He's openly elitist. He's certainly sure of himself (arrogant?). He's frank about his disgust with (disdain for?) the focal points of modern/current academic literary study. He doesn't mince words about (obliquely rips on?) writers who've been unworthily promoted into canonical consideration (e.g., Alice Walker, about whom he seems to have a serious chip on his shoulder). And finally he doesn't deign to dumb down his prose (writes over my head?): he pretty much expects readers to've read as widely as he has and to've remembered all the ideas that he has and to've synthesized most of them the way he has.
So: he praises deep reading and laments the death of it. I can't agree more with those as general feelings but i don't know that there are fewer people (even per capita) willing to read deeply/closely now than there were at whatever time Bloom would like to use for comparison. Like most laments about "Nowadays...," noone can verify empirically a claim such as, "Now, more than ever, [confronting greatness as we read] is out of fashion." I will not claim (or agree with anybody who does claim) that current pop culture offerings (e.g., music videos) are as worthy of serious intellectual study as any of the authors Bloom lauds, but: i contend that the people of Shakespeare's time would probably consider none of our modern literary giants (James Joyce, Emily Dickinson, & Franz Kafka, just to name 3) worthy of comparison with the writers that they most highly treasured. In other words, Bloom's lament is just the same complaint people make about everything as compared to an idealized past that we can't possibly know as well as we imagine we do. (There's no repository of The Literary Critic's Almanac with statistics such as # of close readers per capita.)
Back to the actual book, though, shall we? Bloom's talents are so great that he has me excited by the thought of reading Essays, by a 16th century Frenchman! Montaigne sounds like a helluva fascinating sage, genius, thinker. And i haven't had the remotest interest in reading poetry since graduating from college but the chapters on Emily Dickinson—whom i never really took a shine to—and Walt Whitman and The Hispanics (oh! the Resenters must hate how he has lumped them together)—Jorge Luis Borges & Pablo Neruda & Fernando Pessoa—provide the perfect blend of information and mystery.
The only 2 chapters that fell flat for me were focused on Shakespeare and Sigmund Freud. I gave up on Shakespeare's chapter (the True 1st chapter). I recommend reading the Shakespeare chapter last or near last, unless you already know a lot about Bloom's literary theories, that is. And the Freud chapter—there seems no justification; it's not really about him as a writer or about what he writes, so how's he a canonical author? It ought to've been a part of the Shakespeare chapter: it's essentially about how Shakespeare is Freud; all of Freud's writings are really just rewritings of Shakey (in Bloom's opinion). Nevertheless, i tried to read a couple of Freud's works on my own time during college cuz i was intrigued by his theories about dreams & sexuality & the psyche. Now, i'm tempted to (re)read some Shakespeare and then delve into Freud, again thanks to Harry Bloom.
Bloom's a friggin magician for the literary reader. If you want some inspiration, dip into this book and get it. He might provide negative inspiration for many, but for me it was all positive.
I began with an idea that was probably just gonna be another overbaked personal New Year's challenge: in 2010 i would endeavor to read ~30pp/day of only the biggest and best (i.e., greatest) novels ever written. But after reading The Western Canon, i want to continue with capital-L Literature exclusively. Maybe 2011 can be Epic Poetry Year and 2012 can be Great Western Religious Writings and 2013 The Other Great Poets and 2014 The Other Great Greeks and ... you get the picture. (I might only read new books if they're for book club.) Perhaps that's the overly-hot, can't-be-maintained fire of an infatuation, or maybe it'll really be equivalent to my mother-in-law's revulsion at the idea of rereading any book: she says, "There are so many books that I've never read, why would I waste my time reading one twice?" whereas i would say, "There are so many truly great books that i've never read, why would i waste my time with any that have no canonical caché?"
Starting a quest at the age of 40. Too late? Won't attain the holy grail? It ain't the greatest timing in the world, but i can't start it any sooner than now.
[note 2 yrs later: i still dig Harry and his ideas; still want to read more of them, in fact; i'm reading plenty of "non-canonical" and non-"big ell Literature," and i don't feel undernourished; it really was an overly-hot infatuational inkling, but it's still nice to feel hot.]...more
I think i got the most out of AtPH and the least out of CotP. One could read AtPH and stop there and be satisfied; one might be able to do the same with The Crossing; i don't think anyone'd be satisfied having read only CotP though (i believe you need the backstory of the first 2 books).
More often than not, i enjoy McCarthy's style, in these and the other books i've read. I can understand how many do/will not. I used to loathe every song on the radio that started off in the guise of your typical guitar-centric rock/pop tune but then as soon as the singing began, the guitar would meekly pipedown, making it obnoxiously obvious to me that the band (or its producer/promoter) was among the cult of leadsingerworshippers (e.g., INXS). What does that have to do with McCarthy's prose style? The abrupt change from vaquero simplicity, plainness, terseness to lyrical, metaphysical descriptions seems hyper-self-conscious by the time you get to the 3rd book (if not much sooner). It became hard for me not to sigh and think to myself, "Did he feel constrained? required to continue with this even though it's not absolutely necessary to continue the pattern?"
That's the negative. The positive is that the story and the characters and the ideas are all very strong, compelling, and worthy of your time. Can you tolerate the author's penchant for occasionally overt and overly fancy table setting? If so, you'll be rewarded with a feast for the mind (and soul?)....more