The contemporary man of letters and literary critic Harold Bloom also wrote book about the reading life. Called How to Read and Why,  in it Bloom immediately discards the Adler/Van Doren model of reading as an educational enterprise; instead, Bloom describes the reading life as a “solitary praxis.”  Bloom also rejects the Adler/Van Doren rulebook, averring that there is no single way to read well, though one must read well somehow in order to access the great healing pleasure of solitary reading.  Thus, Bloom connects solitude and healing, making the reading life a life of quiet pleasure and peace of mind.  There is a lot to be said for this model of the reading life, and it seems to me that Bloom is on the right track, though this therapeutic model says little about the actual power of books over governments, religions, and ultimately, human beings.


Bloom writes, “Ultimately we read in order to strengthen the self, and to learn its authentic interests.  I remain skeptical about the traditional social hope that care for others may be stimulated by the growth of the individual imagination, and am wary of any arguments whatsoever that connect the pleasures of solitary reading to the public good.”   And here is one of Bloom’s astounding claims:  “One of the uses of reading is to prepare ourselves for change, and the final change is universal.”  Here Bloom is of course referring to Death, the final change. Surely this claim has some merit.  If, as Bloom claims, the reading life strengthens our authentic self and provides solitary, therapeutic pleasure, why would not a strengthened, solitary self, be more prepared for death than a scattered, submerged, laboring and inauthentic self?  I suppose the answer to that is this.  It is easier to die well when surrounded by loving family and friends than alone surrounded by one’s books.


Bloom did offer some guidelines to reading in general.  He counseled the reader to clear his mind of cant; to reject the attempt to improve one’s neighbor by what one reads; to be an “inventor” as a reader (by this he probably means remaining “open-minded” and curious); to recover the sense of irony; and, finally, to find “what comes near to you that can be put to use of weighing and considering, and that addresses you as though you share the one nature, free of time’s tyranny.”


Here, surely, Bloom slides partway back into the idea that reading has some practical use in self-improvement.  He thinks one can find a “fellow wayfarer” in a writer. As for what it would be like to be free of time’s tyranny, one can only think that it must be like Eastern meditation.  Perhaps he means that the reading life can bring one peace of mind.


Whatever Bloom means, the phrase “time’s tyranny” uncannily brings to life what many writers feel about the reading life. How wonderful to be free of time’s tyranny.