Harold Bloom was one of the leading critics of his generation, and there is no question about his erudition. It is on full display in the posthumously published The Bright Book of Life. If only his vast trove of knowledge weren’t so often employed to place writers within a hierarchy. Must virtually every author be compared unfavorably with Shakespeare? ... I wish Bloom, who died in 2019, could have sometimes appreciated writers for what they are rather than grading them on a curve. But it was evident at least since 'The Anxiety of Influence' appeared in 1973 that he viewed literature as a contest, measuring writers against a yardstick of purportedly timeless values without acknowledging that such values might reflect his personal tastes. In The Bright Book of Life, this is a glaring omission, since Bloom often tosses off judgments that will be incomprehensible to readers unfamiliar with his previous books ... The lengthy quotations, which sometimes go on for several pages, do not necessarily illuminate anything other than Bloom’s fondness for them ... I found myself wondering if this was a rough draft, unfinished when Bloom died, a suspicion reinforced by autobiographical asides that were often tenuously related to the novel under examination ... No one who loves literature will be unmoved by his sense of engaging in a conversation across the centuries with writers and their creations. But I wish the conversations in The Bright Book of Life offered more than competitive rankings and fleeting moments of insight.
A true treasure of literature ... The Bright Book of Life is not the incisive criticism the literary community has come to seek from Bloom. Within this tome, the tone is light, the critical insights often cursory or too abbreviated for a serious plowing under of a work’s hidden meaning. Clearly, that was not Bloom’s intent with this book. The Bright Book of Life is the reflection of a lifetime of reading from a great, deep, exhaustive reader of novels ... any reader of Bloom will immediately recognize the large blocks of quoted text. This is the Bloom style and is one that would, fairly or unfairly, earn low marks in a college composition. In this way, The Bright Book of Life edges closer to a commonplace book—a work of lengthy quoted passages that often far outweighs the few sentences of unpacking commentary that follow .... Bloom’s argument for rereading is loose and comes off more as an assumption on his part than a forceful thesis.
This ambitious final book of his career is elegant and insightful; reading it feels like sitting down with a grandfatherly English professor whose knowledge and wit is simultaneously enviable and inspiring, if not occasionally off-putting ... With loquacious reflection made palatable by thoughtful, meaty prose--underscored by lengthy excerpts from each title--Bloom makes the case for why these timeless works of fiction remain important and powerful.