The Pleasures of Reading: In an Ideological Age

Robert Alter, Author Simon & Schuster $18.45 (250p) ISBN 978-0-671-62783-6
``Peculiar things have clearly been happening in the academic study of literature,'' observes Alter ( Partial Magic ). A professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at UC Berkeley, he offers this slim volume as a semi-polemical corrective to the trend in recent literary studies toward theory and a resulting ``distancing--in the more extreme cases, an actual estrangement--from the experience of reading literature.'' In his defense of reading, the author examines basic components of literature--character, perspective, style, allusion, structure--and draws on the Bible, poetry and, above all, novels to illustrate how these varied elements, ``engaged in constant, shifting interplay,'' provide readers with pleasure in part because they resist inclusion within the grand schemes of now-popular theoretical models. With few exceptions, Alter avoids point-by-point attacks on specific critics, thereby averting, by his own example, the critical heaviness he decries in others. His enthusiasm for the works of Stendhal, Conrad, Faulkner Nabokov and Wallace Stevens, to name just a few, will indeed send readers looking for the pleasures promised. (June)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1989
Release date: 01/01/1989
Genre: Fiction
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