©1994 by Harold Bloom; (P)1997 by Blackstone Audiobooks
I have been an Audible listener for many years and I try to explore a diversity of literature and subject matter. However, this book was a challenge to the extent that I could not finish it. I tried twice. I can agree with Jerry from Topeka that Professor Bloom is pedantic, but that was not the worst thing for me. The worst thing was the narrator who was reading the pedantry of the writer. A better narrator might have improved the book, because the material is actually quite interesting. Instead, the droll pseudo-British accent of this narrator was too much for me. I recommend that you pass this one by. There is plenty of better material available on Audible.
My main motivation for writing this review is my disappointment in the other reviews here on Audible so far. There are many much better reviews of this very book on amazon.com, and I would urge you to check them out before being discouraged from picking up Bloom's excellent book.
Most of the reviews here so far either complains about the narration or complains about Bloom's personality and choice of books. Bloom's personality and choice of books has been discussed to death in many other reviews (for example the ones on amazon), so I will mainly focus on the narration.
Luckily, the task of defending the narrator, which I think does an excellent job, is eased through the availability of the audio-preview on this page. Be sure to check it out. The sound quality of the actual download is also somewhat better than the preview. Amongst the complaints that are raised is that the narrator does not emulate, say, the French pronunciation of a French name. This seems petty, and perhaps some of the very same people would complain that the narrator was snobbish if he, say, switched to an upper-class Parisien pronunciation of Foucault. Not only does the narrator manage to read a difficult and almost baroque text in a natural way, he also manages to maintain the calmness, humor and humanity that Bloom's text so beautifully contains. In fact, when I read Bloom's other works, I can still almost hear James Armstrong's voice as I read. Bloom's personality has become forever mixed with Armostrong's interpretation of him.
Amongst the reviews here on Audible, the main attack on Bloom's personality and choice of books is raised by Jerry from Topeka. His rhetoric is that of the rebel. However, other than his supposed authority as a college graduate and having read Ulyesses (not particularly strong arguments), he does not offer any good reason for disliking the book as much as he seems to be doing. His stabs seems to be applicable to any opinionated text on the western canon written by someone famous. It seems that Jerry would rather read a boring and distanced academic treatise on the history of literature, but instead got a charmingly grumpy old man's advice to the younger generation. Bloom has summarized his best findings and perspectives from a lifetime of serious reading and interpretation. It is impossible to have time to read everything, so Bloom's advice is much appreciated. Perhaps the most interesting part of Jerry's review is to point out that not all agree with Bloom. Go figure. Bloom has a very personal and esoteric reading style, and is quite the character. Bloom in no way tries to hide his quite literally religious relationship to Shakespeare, and if that seems annoying, this is not the book for you. Bloom's strangeness is so obvious that I do not think anyone is at risk of being seduced by the devil through reading this book, even if you do not have a PhD in literature.
That being said, this is obviously not an easy book, and Bloom actually expects you to sit down and read (or listen through) Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dante, etc. He motivates why you should use your time on this, and gives some indication on his way of reading some of the master works in the canon. If it is very unlikely that you sit down and Milton's quite difficult, but very rewarding Paradise Lost, this book is not for you. An introduction to literature critique will also be highly recommended, and for example The Teaching Company's course “From Plato to Post-modernism: Understanding the Essence of Literature and the Role of the Author” by Louis Markos would be a very helpful introduction to the subject.
You won't get much out of this if you haven't read the specific books he talks about. He makes no effort to provide an overview before discussing each work. After I while, I just skipped over chapters about works I hadn't read. The sound editing is a little poor in places.
My critique pertains solely to the recording itself. The sound quality is acceptable, but sounds as though you're listening to a slightly damaged analog audiotape. The narrator mispronounces a few names and in one instance mispronounces Foucault as "fo calt" and then roughly a half hour later pronounces it correctly. I found this particularly annoying. The content itself is interesting and, of course, well written, but I wish I'd bought the hard copy of the book. I wasted my money on this audiobook.
If the reader enjoys the typical pompous professor of English (or world literature) who loves grinding his ideas into the handiest student(s) available then this is your book. His choice of the 12 great books in the world tradition of great literature and the fact that he decries the lack of same in the present period are especially irritating. A well known (and somewhat respected) authority on Shakespeare he has a tough time not comparing everyone to that great bard. He skips merrily past Chaucer and of course Shakespeare is his first pick. He chooses Proust, questionable at best. He dismisses Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner in one sentence. He picks Joyce's Finnegan's Wake (!?). (At least read Ulysses first!) I was stuck reading Bloom as an undergraduate English major and have never forgiven my professors. I dislike being hammered over the head by an all knowing authority who does NOT know everything. Aside from Joyce and Proust there are other questionable choices such as Kafka. He passes over Dostoyevsky but does choose Tolstoi. He spends a good deal of time trying to justify (apologize?) for this ommision and winds up looking the fool with an incredibly inane argumet. He apparenly only wants one Russian on his list of 12. Proust or Joyce over Doystovevsky? He especially loves to pound this nonsense into the heads of PhD candidates who had better toe the line. Been there and done that. Sigmund Freud as one of the 12 greatest literary writers? Bring you M.A. or be very well read or you'll be spoon fed a lot of drivel. Avoid this and other works by Bloom at all costs with the possible exception of works on Shakespeare. He's one of the best known maverick critics of modern times. I am not being egotistical. This professor and critic is widely disliked by many with an M.A. or PhD who can enjoy not bowing to his great ego. Many PhD's are pendantic. Bloom takes it to an all time high.
a book that states its case clearly and sets out to map the milestones of an entire culture. i have to admit, i found it heavy going at 22 hours but if you're less shallow than me and if you want to know why certain authors have been held as worthy of praise, check this one out.
Wise, erudite, enlightening.
The Western Canon is unlike any other book I've read. However, although they are very different, if you liked David Denby's Great Books, you'll like The Western Canon.
No. The man is an ignoramus. He mispronounces the names of many of the greatest writers and philosophers of the western tradition. He clearly has never heard of Jorge Luis Borges, Foucault, Nietzsche, and many others, and it shows in his reading.
The complexity of Bloom's argument.
Anatomy of Criticism, which advances a similar thesis.
The narrator mispronounces several words.
The book is too long for me. Having it on audio makes it feel like attending a series of lectures, and it's much easier.
Beautifully written, beautifully read. If you want an introduction to the classics of Western literature, and a deeper understanding of what makes them classic look no further. This is it.
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