Harold Bloom has a valid gripe with the “School of Resentment” as he calls it–i.e. the group of academics who are actively destroying the notion of a canon of great works, of classics. The real virtue of this book, however, is in Bloom’s wise and warm-hearted discussions of the art of the great works themselves. He’ll send you back to your favorite classics reinvigorated to discover them again or inspire you to tackle great works you’ve heard of but never read. Either way, Bloom will arm you with much helpful wisdom about the books, their narrative strategies, their themes, and their relation to one another. His approach is in my view the common sense one–to think about the writers not as vessels of impersonal cultural-historical forces, but as individual human beings, as artists acutely aware of, indebted to, and competitive with their predecessors. It’s a history of literary artists since the Renaissance as if they’ve all been working on the same piece, like architects inheriting the job of building a grand cathedral and passing the job on to the next generation.
The only disappointments for me were chapters 10 (on Jane Austen and Wordsworth) and 20 (on Kafka)–Bloom lapses into excessive abstraction in these. But this book is an essential for any library.