Day 1: Bradbury Reading Program

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For my real New Year’s resolutions, I always try to make one small, realistic behavior change and actually stick with it. One year I gave up beef and pork; I still don’t eat beef and pork. (Before you come at me, last I checked, chicken was not a vegetable.)

Anyway, for my 2022 resolution, I decided to embark on Ray Bradbury’s reading program. This is his writing advice to read one short story, poem and essay every night before bed for 1,000 days. I doubt I’ll go through three years, but if I even make it a month I’ll be happy. I’m blogging about it to stay accountable.

“What you’ve got to do from this night forward is stuff your head with more different things from various fields . . . I’ll give you a program to follow every night, very simple program. For the next thousand nights, before you go to bed every night, read one short story. That’ll take you ten minutes, 15 minutes. Okay, then read one poem a night from the vast history of poetry. Stay away from most modern poems. It’s crap. It’s not poetry! It’s not poetry. Now if you want to kid yourself and write lines that look like poems, go ahead and do it, but you’ll go nowhere. Read the great poets, go back and read Shakespeare, read Alexander Pope, read Robert Frost. But one poem a night, one short story a night, one essay a night, for the next 1,000 nights. From various fields: archaeology, zoology, biology, all the great philosophers of time, comparing them. Read the essays of Aldous Huxley, read Lauren Eisley, great anthropologist. . . I want you to read essays in every field. On politics, analyzing literature, pick your own. But that means that every night then, before you go to bed, you’re stuffing your head with one poem, one short story, one essay—at the end of a thousand nights, Jesus God, you’ll be full of stuff, won’t you?”

-from “Telling the Truth,” the keynote address of The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University, 2001

Unlike Bradbury, however, I will mix up my reading with contemporary writers as well; I think it is a bit snobbish to assume that only the deceased have something interesting to say.

Here are tonight’s readings. I will share an interesting passage, a summary and a lesson learned.

Essay: Total Eclipse by Anne Dillard

This essay reminded me of the time I was lucky enough to see a total eclipse in person, when one happened near where I live in Oregon a couple of years ago. I too shared Ms. Dillard’s awe and was challenged by the task of describing that awe. She did an excellent job of both bringing the event down to a granular level and expressing the grandiosity of it.

“There are a few more things to tell from this level, the level of the restaurant. One is the old joke about breakfast. “It can never be satisfied, the mind, never.” Wallace Stevens wrote that, and in the long run he was right. The mind wants to live forever, or to learn a very good reason why not. The mind wants the world to return its love, or its awareness; the mind wants to know all the world, and all eternity, and God. The mind’s sidekick, however, will settle for two eggs over easy.”

Short Story: The Dead by James Joyce

At first you think it’s a joyous tale of a Christmas get-together, with laughter, food and dancing. Gabriel is nervous about a speech he is to give. He says an off-handed remark to a servant girl, who responds to him bitterly about men she has loved. Thus begins the foreshadowing of a tale of his wife’s grief over a lover who died young.

I felt like I was there in the dance hall, laughing and sighing along with this family, swept up in the sands of time long ago. Such a slow-building melody.

“He stood still in the gloom of the hall, trying to catch the air that the voice was singing and gazing up at his wife. There was grace and mystery in her attitude as if she were a symbol of something. He asked himself what is a woman standing on the stairs in the shadow, listening to distant music, a symbol of. If he were a painter he would paint her in that attitude. Her blue felt hat would show off the bronze of her hair against the darkness and the dark panels of her skirt would show off the light ones. Distant Music he would call the picture if he were a painter.”

Poem: We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks

A brief rapture about the impetuousness and invincibility of youth.

“Jazz June. We
Die soon.”

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