What is "literature in these postmodern, postcanonical times? And if a small number of works being written today are "literary," what distinguishes them from those many others that are not? The store managers who shelve books in separate "literature" and "fiction" sections clearly have something in mind, but they're not talking. James Bloom has his own ideas, and he is.
With zest and conviction, Bloom argues that traditional aspirations to literariness persist in the poetry and fiction of writers such as Robert Stone, Jane Smiley, Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison, Adrienne Rich, and Robert Pinsky. All, in their various ways, exhibit a critical and playful awareness of their literary antecedents, display and resist the seductions of eloquence, arouse and discipline their readers' curiosity. Bloom deftly shows how their writings negotiate with the nonliterary media that dominate our culture, even as the cultural capital of canonical authors like Shakespeare and Keats is put to work on the pages of mail-order catalogs and the New York Times, on network television, and in the products of the Disney conglomerate.
"Bloom does not so much present a defense of literariness as enact one. The variety of his illustrations and the breathless pace of his prose make an apocalyptic case for the value of cultural literacy in a postliterate culture. In reading, one feels an intimacy with and fondness for Bloom as someone totally immersed in both popular and high culture and committed to making sense of both, without belittling either."—David Van Leer, University of California, Riverside
"While most of the smart-alecs in the humanities have been hacking away at literary culture (which is to say, 'deconstructing' it with a vengeance), James Bloom has been reading, reading, reading—and now he has constructed a singularly thoughtful and important synthesis of old and new ways of looking at serious literature and its role in everyday life. His book stands as one of the most valuable contributions to literary criticism in recent years."—Alan Cheuse, book reviewer, NPR's All Things Considered