The American Canon: Literary Genius from Emerson to Le Guin

Library of America. Oct. 2019. 500p. ed. by ed. by David Mikics. index. ISBN 9781598536409. $32. LIT
Bloom (Sterling Professor of Humanities, Yale Univ.; The Anxiety of Influence) is America’s grandfather of literary criticism and scholarship. This compilation of lightly revised, previously published essays focuses on 47 different writers, with most pieces touching on aspects of Bloom’s major contribution to literary theory, “the anxiety of influence,” while examining each writer’s “daemon.” Bloom is a more astute critic of poets than prose writers. As such, entries concentrated on the poets are the most rewarding. Readers expecting biographical sketches or historical context will be sorely disappointed, as most of the chapters deal with an author’s primary work, for example, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851), Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon (1977), and Thomas Pynchon’s eight-page “Byron the Bulb” section of Gravity’s Rainbow (1974). Though Bloom is widely read, his literary world of American writers is myopic, as most of the authors here, by his reasoning, undoubtedly wrestled with the influence of white, male figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, and Wallace Stevens.
VERDICT Because of the esoteric nature of this book, it is primarily geared toward collections with Bloom’s other works and his most ardent readers.

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