\"The title of Harold Bloom\'s new guide to literature and life may sound off-puttingly smug and condescending, but it\'s not until you get into How to Read and Why that you realize just how off-puttingly smug and condescending the book really is. \"How to Read and Why claims to be a practical guide that can show us not only how to read great literature, but why it\'s worth skipping the Masterpiece Theatre versions for the books themselves in the first place -- why, as Bloom sees it, the very act of reading makes us, in the end, more fully human. (Bloom thinks you get more out of Hamlet by reading the play than by seeing it performed.) That\'s a worthy project: A gentle, detailed, careful guide through the complexities and nuances of Proust or Cervantes or Emily Dickinson, pitched to the general reader and blessedly free of academic jargon, would win over a lot of readers (just as the Shakespeare book did). Ironic, then, that nearly every pedantic page of this show-offy exercise demonstrates why so many people think the \"Great Books\" are too fancy and obscure to bother with in the first place.